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Editors: Gordon Clark, Andrew Goudie, and Ceri Peach
Editorial Advisory Board
Professor Kay Anderson (United Kingdom)
Professor Felix Driver (United Kingdom)
Professor Rita Gardner (United Kingdom)
Professor Avijit Gupta (United Kingdom)
Professor Christian Kesteloot (Belgium)
Professor David Thomas (United Kingdom)
Professor B. L. Turner II (USA)
Professor Michael Watts (USA)
Professor James Wescoat (USA)
The Globalized City
Economic Restructuring and Social Polarization in European Cities
Edited by Frank Moulaert, Arantxa Rodriguez, and Erik Swyngedouw
Of States and Cities
The Partitioning of Urban Space
Edited by Peter Marcuse and Ronald van Kempen
Globalization and Integrated Area Development in European Cities
Frank Moulaert
Globalization and Urban Change
Capital, Culture, and Pacic Rim Mega-Projects
Kris Olds
Sustainable Livelihoods in Kalahari Environments
Edited by Deborah Sporton and David S. G. Thomas
Conct, Consensus, and rationality in Environmental Planning
An Institutional Discourse Approach
Yvonne Rydin
An Uncooperative Commodity
Privatizing Water in England and Wales
Karen J. Bakker
Manufacturing Culture
The Institutional Geography of Industrial Practice
Meric S. Gertler
Thailand at the Margins
Internationalization of the State and the Transformation of Labour
Jim Glassman
Social Power and
the Urbanization
of Water
Flows of Power
Erik Swyngedouw
Great Clarendon Street, Oxford ox: 6ni
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Geography and environmental studies are two closely related and burgeoning
elds of academic enquiry. Both have grown rapidly over the past few decades.
At once catholic in its approach and yet strongly committed to a comprehen-
sive understanding of the world, geography has focused upon the interaction
between global and local phenomena. Environmental studies, on the other
hand, have shared with the discipline of geography an engagement with differ-
ent disciplines, addressing wide-ranging and signicant environmental issues
in the scientic community and the policy community. From the analysis of cli-
mate change and physical environmental processes to the cultural dislocations
of post-modernism across the landscape, these two elds of enquiry have been
at the forefront of attempts to comprehend transformations taking place in the
world, manifesting themselves at a variety of interrelated spatial scales.
The Oxford Geographical and Environmental Studies series aims to reect
this diversity and engagement. Our goal is to publish the best and original
research in the two related elds and, in doing so, demonstrate the signicance
of geographical and environmental perspectives for understanding the con-
temporary world. As a consequence, our scope is deliberately international and
ranges widely in terms of topics, approaches, and methodologies. Authors are
welcome from all corners of the globe. We hope the series will assist in reden-
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knowledge while representing the fruits of particular and diverse scholarly
Gordon L. Clark
Andrew Goudie
Ceri Peach
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
If there were water
From: T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Urban and rural landscapes . . . are not two places but one. They created
each other, they transformed each others environments and economies,
and they now depend on each other for survival . . . We all live in the city.
We all live in the country. Both are second nature to us.
Cronon 1991: 3845
The day after I rst arrived in Guayaquil in mid-1992, a friend showed me
around town. I was given the classic geographers tour of the city, Ecuadors
largest, located on the Pacic coast of this Andean country. The tour ended in
the late afternoon on a hill on the outskirts of the central part of town. It is the
kind of hill often favoured by geographers and planners to take visitors for a
birds-eye view of a city. Such a perspective helps to chart a panoramic view and
explain the city. This male gaze par excellence provides the illusion that it is
possible to put the city in your pocket as a woman friend once put it. I was
tired and thirsty after a long day lled with stories and visits, and saturated with
new smells, sights, and impressions.
While my friend kept pointing out the landmarks that dotted the urban land-
scape and invited attention, my mind and eyes wandered off to observe the
intense movements of people and trucks at the foot of the hill. Large blue
trucks drove on and off, while dozens of apparently similar vehicles owed
back and forth over the dusty road. This hustle and bustle suggested busy eco-
nomic activity, more so than anywhere else in the city that I had just visited. I
interrupted my friends story and asked him about this strange trafc. He
glanced down, commented Oh, they are selling water, and continued with the
story that I had impolitely interrupted. I pondered the idea for a moment: sell-
ing water. I also pondered the tone of self-evidence with which my friend had
uttered these words. It appeared to suggest that my question was rather nave,
implying a blissful ignorance of the realities of urban life in Guayaquil. Of
course they were selling water. What else would a bunch of blue trucks at the
foot of a hill on the outskirts of Guayaquil do? I sat down and waited until my
friend had nished his story, while watching the movement of the trucks with
growing interest. Who were they selling to? Where did the water come from?
What kind of water? For whose city?
I nally managed to catch my friends attention again, and he explained.
Well, he said, you remember this afternoon we visited the informal settle-
ments in Guasmo and Suburbio, and in Mapasingue and Barrio Popular. The
people living thereover 600,000 of them in a city of roughly two million
have no piped potable water, not even standpipes. The trucks you see down
there drive to these settlements and sell water door-to-door, like ice-cream. The
water is actually very expensive. They pay about 450 sucre (US$0.30) to ll up
a 55-gallon tank. In fact, water is one of the most serious problems in this city,
together with housing, transport, and crime. These trucks are privately owned,
and operate in a semi-legal framework. They buy water from the publicly
owned municipal water company at a highly subsidized rate (70 sucre/1,000
litres) and sell it on. I dont have to tell you that this quasi-informal economy is
very lucrative. Of course, for the people starving of thirst in the informal
settlements the water vendors are both essential for their survival and consid-
ered to be thieves and crooks. There are continual tensions and little skirmishes
between residents and water vendors. The relationship is rather tense. More-
over, the water system in Guayaquil is notoriously unreliable. Where you and I
live (in the centre), we often dont have water either. It is all quite a mess.
I listened to the story with growing amazement. It was hot. I was sweating all
over. The smell I gave off must have been rather unpleasant. I longed for a
shower and a cold drink. My gaze moved back to the panorama of the city as I
tried to imagine it without water. The city began to disappear and the image of
a desert, of a dry and hot wasteland began to creep into my imagination. A
place without people, without water, without life. In the far distance, the
mighty Guayas River owed by. Strange. Millions of gallons of water ow
through the city, yet thousands of little struggles are waged daily, by tens of
thousands of people, for a bit of expensive, more or less potable, water. Of
course, earlier that day I had also seen the gated communities of the upper
classes, with their swimming pools, irrigated gardens, and lavish fountains
decorating the entry squares of the highly protected and privately policed
For a few years, I had been reading and thinking about politics, economics,
the city; and about social power, exclusion, and revolt. My green friends kept
insisting that nature and the environment needed to be taken seriously as well.
Perhaps they were right. What if we started thinking about the city, nature, and
social power? What, if any, was the relationship between urban ecology and
politics, between empowerment and disempowerment and the ow of water?
What was hidden behind the H
O that was trucked around this city? What
would such an excavation of the ow of urban water tell me about the city, its
people and the mechanisms of political, economic, and cultural domination? I
wondered, but I also knew then that a practice and a story was hidden some-
where in that ow of water; a practice and a story of ows of liquid power. This
book is the result of the search for this story.
Erik Swyngedouw
1 July 2003
x Preface
The origins of this book date back to some time in 1986, when the Catholic
University of Guayaquil in Ecuador approached the Institute for Urban and
Regional Planning of the University of Leuven, Belgium, where I was a
researcher at the time, to seek help for establishing an institute for urban and
regional planning at their university. Within a few years, a major research
and institution building exercise was launched, nancially supported by the
Belgian Ministry of Development (ABOS) and the Flemish Interuniversity
Research Council (VLIR). Although I had moved to Oxford in 1988, the pro-
jects director, Professor Louis Albrechts of the University of Leuven, invited
me to continue to be involved in this Ecuadorian venture. Between 1988 and
1994, I spent more than a year in Ecuador at the newly established Instituto de
Planicacin Urbano y Regional (IPUR), undertaking the eld research that
would eventually lead to this book. I am grateful to St Peters College and the
School of Geography for granting me the sabbatical leave to undertake this
research. I continued my work with further shorter visits, mainly funded by
Oxford Universitys Hayter Fund.
In Guayaquil, I had the good fortune to work with a great team of
Ecuadorean and Belgian academics. All of them have been instrumental in
shaping the analysis presented in the next pages. In addition to Louis
Albrechts, who has been an inspiring mentor over the years, Andrew
Bovarnick, Galo Chiriboga, Jos Delgado, Piet Deseure, Luis Gomez, Carlos
Leon, Jef Marien, Joris and Hilde Scheers, Gaetan Villavicencio and a sup-
porting network of local friends have been instrumental in making this book
come to fruition. Greet Remans was a loving companion and comrade during
many of these wonderful years. Annie Collaer kept us all informed and orga-
nized with her great organizational talents. With the support of the Flemish
International Centre (VIC) and with the friends from the Federacin de
Barrios Suburbanos (FEDEBAS) in Guayaquil, an alternative water supply
and distribution system was set up in some of the informal settlements of
Guayaquil. Making this project possible was for me a small, but signicant,
way of trying to make our research socially meaningful and politically relevant.
Of course, the theoretical framework that laid the foundations for the analy-
sis presented in this book was developed over the years in the context of the
stimulating and exciting debates, arguments, and collaborative work I enjoyed
in Oxford and which have helped to shape and sharpen the arguments pre-
sented here. I owe a considerable debt to my friends, colleagues, and students in
the School of Geography and the Environment and in St Peters College. In
particular, Simon Addison, Guy Baeten, Karen Bakker, Jessica Budd, Esteban
Castro, Kim Hammond, David Harvey, Maria Kaka, Alex Loftus, Ben
Page, and Judith Tsouvalis not only provided an intellectually stimulating
environment, but also brought the fun, love, pleasure, and enjoyment that is so
often absent from the dim corridors of academic institutions. David Dodmans
editorial work was meticulous and detailed. Ailsa Allen has been great as usual
producing all the graphs and cartographic work.
This book is dedicated to my children Eva, Nikolaas, and Arno. Eva and
Nikolaas remember their stay in Guayaquil with great fondness. I am sure
Arno will one day also visit this beautiful country, Ecuador on which he has
just completed his school project. My work has cost them dearly in terms of
time I did not spend with them, but rather with the people of Guayaquil or sit-
ting behind my computer. I can only hope that one day they will understand
and forgive me for the time stolen from them.
xii Acknowledgements
List of Plates xiv
List of Figures xv
List of Tables xvi
Introduction: The Power of Water 1
PART I Flows of Power: Nature, Power, and the City
1. Hybrid Waters: On Water, Nature, and Society 7
2. The City in a Glass of Water: Circulating Water, Circulating Power 27
3. Water, Power, and the Andean City: Situating Guayaquil 51
PART II Social Power and the Urbanization of Water
in Guayaquil, Ecuador
4. The Urban Conquest of Water in Guayaquil, 18801945:
Cocoa and the Urban Water Dream 79
5. The Urban Conquest of Water in Guayaquil, 19452000:
Bananas, Oil, and the Production of Water Scarcity 102
6. The Water Mandarins: The Contradictions of Urban
Water Provision 116
7. The Water Lords: Speculators in Water 135
8. Contested Waters: Rituals of Resistance and Water Activism 150
PART III Conclusion
9. Whose Water and Whose City? Towards an Emancipatory
Water Politics 175
Bibliography 185
Index 203
3.1 Drowning in water and starving from thirst: Isla Trinitaria, Guayaquil 71
3.2 High and dry: Bastion Popular, Guayaquil 71
7.1 Tanqueros lling their water lorries at the lling station 137
7.2 Selling water by the barrel 140
8.1 Collective social actions around water 157
8.2 Guayaquils enduring water shortages and problems: media representations 164
8.3 Speculating with water 165
8.4 Going on water strike/sabotaging the water system 170
1.1 The dialectics of the material production of socio-nature 18
1.2 The dialectics of the representational production of socio-nature 19
1.3 The production of socio-nature 22
3.1 The location of Guayaquil in Ecuador 63
3.2 The city of Guayaquil and its main urban divisions 65
3.3 Percentage of dwellings served by water lorries in Guayaquil, 1990 66
3.4 The water supply system in Guayaquil 68
7.1 Turning H
O into money 136
3.1 Average municipal water consumption in Latin American cities 52
3.2 Urban populations with access to water supply and sewerage in Andean
and selected Latin American countries 54
3.3 Percentage of houses with indoor piped water and sewerage connections,
selected Latin American cities 54
3.4 Relationships between proportion of water consumed and percentage of
households, and total water production per capita in selected Latin
American cities 55
3.5 Potable water and sewerage services in Quito, Guayaquil, and Ecuador,
19741990 64
3.6 Water accessibility and water provision in the metropolitan area of
Guayaquil (City of Guayaquil plus Duran), 1990 64
3.7 Geographical distribution of water supply and consumption through the
ofcial network, 1990 69
3.8 Bacteriological analysis of drinking water in selected parts of the city 74
4.1 Population change in Guayaquil, 15001990 84
4.2 Number of businesses and their net worth, Guayaquil, 1901 86
6.1 Water consumption, distribution, losses, and accounted-for water in
Guayaquil, 1990 121
6.2 Evolution of the debt position of the Empresa Provincial de Agua Potable,
Guayaquil, 19801992 123
6.3 Proportion of water and sanitation services privatized, 1997 and 2010
projected 127
6.4 International corporate private investment for water and sanitation in
developing and transition countries, 19841997 128
6.5 Factors of public sector inefciency 129
6.6 Factors promoting privatization 130
6.7 Factors discouraging privatization 131
7.1 Number of tanqueros active in the city of Guayaquil, 1992 137
7.2 Distribution of water by tankers in January and July 1992 138
7.3 Price multiples and water prices charged by water vendors, mid-1970s to
1980s and 2001 139
7.4 EPAP-G tariff structure for residential water use, October 1988, December
1992, September 1993 141
7.5 Evolution of ofcial and real water prices 142
7.6 Ownership structure of water-vending trucks in 1992 143
7.7 Comparison of average cost per tank of 200 litres of water in current
sucres and US$ 144
7.8 The average income and expenditure structure of EPAP-Gs water
production 146
8.1 Reported moments of acute water shortages in Guayaquil, January
1988August 1993, MayAugust 1996, and January 1998July 1998 162
8.2 Examples of reported water strikes by the tanqueros, 19911993 166
8.3 Examples of reported attacks and sabotages of the water system,
19881992, FebruaryJune 1998 169
Introduction: The Power of Water
Water is indispensable stuff for maintaining the metabolism, not only of our
human bodies, but also of the wider social fabric. The very sustainability of
cities and the practices of everyday life that constitute the urban are predi-
cated upon and conditioned by the supply, circulation, and elimination of
water. The complex web of the Metabolisms of Cities (Wolman 1965: 179)
relies on the perpetual circulation of water into, through, and out of the city.
Without an uninterrupted ow of water, the maelstrom of city life and the
mesmerizing collage of interwoven practices that constitute the very essence of
urbanity are hard to imagine. It is difcult, if not impossible, for most of us to
even think about living without water for drinking, washing, bathing, cooking,
or cleaning for more than a few hours. Indeed, like food, water is both a bio-
logical necessity and a key economic commodity, as well as being the source of
an intricate and rich cultural and symbolic power (see Bachelard 1942). But
while the supply of food, clothing, and durable goods can be handled through
local, decentralized, individual initiative, the supply of water is routinely
although by no means necessarily or exclusivelyorganized by means of large
bureaucratic and engineering control systems, collective intervention and
action, and centralized decision-making systems (see Wittfogel 1957; Worster
1985; Lorrain 1997; Donahue and Johnston 1998). Such centralized and
hierarchical systems, whether privately or publicly owned, enable monopoly
control and, given the commodity character of water, permit the extraction of
monopoly prots in addition to the powerful social and political control that
goes with monopolistic control over vital goods. Contrary to the rural realm
whereat least under non-arid conditionswater of a reasonable quality is
easily and often readily available, urban water supply and access relies on the
perpetual transformation, mastering, and harnessing of natural water. Urban
water is necessarily transformed, metabolized water, not only in terms of its
physico-chemical characteristics, but also in terms of its social characteristics
and its symbolic and cultural meanings. In capitalist cities, or at least in cities
where market relations are the dominant form of exchange, this circulation of
water is also an integral part of the circulation of money and capital. Natures
water is captured, pumped, puried, chemically adjusted, piped, bought and
sold, regulated, used by households, agriculture and industry, transformed into
electricity, biochemically metabolized by plants, animals and humans, inte-
grated in public displays like fountains, often turned into sewage, eventually
returned to nature. As with other urban goods and services, water circulation
is part and parcel of the political economy of power that gives structure and
coherence to the urban fabric. Indeed, the water/money nexus combined with
Os essential life-giving and life-sustaining use-value inserts water and the
hydrosocial cycle into the power relationships of everyday life and makes it
subject to intense social struggle along class, gender, and ethnic cleavages for
access and/or control. Mechanisms of access to and exclusion from water lay
bare political economic power relationships and positions of social and cul-
tural power, particularly in cities that lack adequate water supply systems or in
environments characterized by heavily contested water usage. The circulation
of water combines political and economic power at the international, national,
regional, and local levels with a social and economic struggle for the control
over and appropriation of water. Both public and private agents are deeply
implicated in this struggle for the command over water and for power.
The ow of water and the ow of money and power are, consequently, ma-
terially linked. In a variety of ways, Worster (1985), Reisner (1986), Davis
(1990), and Hundley (1992) have shown how watering California in general,
and Los Angeles in particular, has been a tumultuous and conict-ridden
process driven by relations of political power, economic control, and territor-
ial conict. In the same way, I suggest that the power/money/water nexus can
be introduced as a conceptual triad, which lays bare the political economy of
the urban fabric and the functioning of mechanisms of domination and sub-
ordination within the urban arena. Just as the investigation of the circulation
of money and capital illustrates the functioning of capitalism as an economic
system (see Harvey 1981; 1982), I aim to demonstrate that the circulation of
wateras a physical and social processbrings to light wider political eco-
nomic, social, and ecological processes. In turn, this will permit a better under-
standing of the political ecological processes that shape urbanization. Indeed,
controlling the ow of water implies controlling the city, as without the unin-
terrupted owing of water, the citys metabolism would come to a halt. The
metaphorical and material streams of power that give Guayaquil, or any other
city, its city structure can be unravelled and reconstructed, I hold, through
excavating the political economic relations through which water is brought
into, circulated through, and taken out of the city. And this is exactly the task
set out for this book.
The particular irony evident in Guayaquil, is that billions of litres of water
ow through the city centre as the Rivers Daule and Babahoyo come together
to form the mighty Guayas stream, while almost half the city dwellers do not
have access to adequate and reliable potable water supplies and the entire city
suffers from chronic water shortages. The sewage system, the other half of the
circulatory water system, is on the verge of total collapse. For the invasiones,
land invaded and occupied by rural migrants and the rapidly expanding urban
underclass, the irony takes even more grotesque forms. The further consolida-
tion and expansion of invasion settlements in the Guayas river estuary is or-
2 Introduction: The Power of Water
ganized through a detailed division of labour, often concerned with controlling
and engineering estuary water (landll, elevated housing and pathway con-
struction, simple dams, etc.) while, once new sites are occupied, the new city
dwellers suffer from chronic potable water supply problems and lack of sani-
tary services. Despite being surrounded by saline and polluted estuary water,
and being inundated during the rainy season, they never have access to ade-
quate drinking water. The absence of water and the exclusionary practices
through which the urban water supply system is organized tell a story of urban
deprivation, disempowerment, and repressive social mechanisms that turn
slum life into the antithesis of modern urban life.
This book seeks to document and analyse the power of water in the context
of Guayaquils urbanization process and to suggest strategies for an emanci-
patory and non-exclusive production, conduction, and distribution of urban
water. In the rst three chapters of the book, I attempt to chart the political
ecological perspectives that have inspired the research on Guayaquils urban-
ization process. I shall start with outlining how water captures and fuses
together physical and social processes. This will set the scene for Chapter 2,
where I explore the thorny relationship between nature, society, and water as
they become welded together in the city through the urbanization process. The
historical geography of urban water control will be briey recapitulated to
highlight the social constructedness of water use and mastering, and the ma-
terial and symbolic power mechanisms that are inscribed in the way the urban-
ization of water has unfolded. The third chapter, then, switches the vantage
point to the Latin American city and to Guayaquil, in particular, and charts the
oppressive and exclusive processes that produce highly uneven and deeply
problematic access to water, and in particular potable water, to many urban
residents. I shall explore the ows of power and the mechanisms of participa-
tion and exclusion that describe the rituals of everyday urban life as they are
inscribed in the metabolic circulation of urban water.
The second part of the book will delve into the political-ecological dynam-
ics through which the contemporary urban waterscape and hydrosocial cycle in
Guayaquil became constituted. The citys waterscape is indeed a manufactured
landscape, one that is wrought, historically and geographically, from a mes-
merizing mixture of local, regional, national, and international socio-
economic and political-ecological processes and struggles. Chapters 4 and 5
undertake this history of the urban water networks, and reconstruct how
Guayaquils twentieth-century history became etched into the technical,
social, and ecological structures of the water system. This history and current
geography of the city will be written from the perspective of the necessity to
control and harness water ow into and around the city. The socio-economic
and political-geographic power relationships determining access to or exclu-
sion from water will be analysed in the context of Guayaquils urbanization
process. In addition, I shall explore how these practices vindicate social and
economic power relationships at the local, national, and international level.
Introduction: The Power of Water 3
In the subsequent part the Water Mandarins, which organize and control
the production, conduction, and distribution of urban water in Guayaquil, will
be charted with a focus on their internal and external relations. This will
include an analysis of the relationship between external funding agencies (the
World Bank and others), national government, and the local and recently
privatized water company (Chapter 6). In addition, infrastructure and invest-
ment planning, price mechanisms, and control structures will be explored in
the light of the disempowering mechanisms of the existing water system. In
Chapter 7, I shall explore the relations between the water company and the
water speculators, the informal system of water distribution by a series of
private water vendors (tanqueros) that serve the suburban areas by means of
In the nal section of the book, the struggles for water power will be docu-
mented. In Chapter 8, the strategies of the water company, the tanqueros, and
the local communities will demonstrate how control over and access to water is
highly contested terrain. The ow of money from the community to the state,
the private sector, and the water speculators, and the consequent draining of
resources will be detailed. Attention will be paid to both informal struggles,
political clientelist strategies and to water violence in the quest for control
over water. These struggles exemplify the dynamics of the Guayaquileo urban
political economy and highlight the mechanisms of domination/subordina-
tion and participation/exclusion in the context of peripheral urbanization
processes. Attention will also be paid to people power, to the weapons
deployed by the weak, and the ingenious mechanisms mobilized by individuals
and social groups alike to secure access to at least some of the available water.
The section will conclude with a discussion of the struggles over access to water
in the practices of everyday urban life. In the concluding chapter, strategic
issues related to the possibilities for an emancipatory and empowering devel-
opment will be explored. Political, institutional, and technological alternatives
enabling a more equitable water supply and distribution system and permitting
local residents to exercise the right to the city (and its water) will be outlined.
In short, in what follows, I aim to reconstruct the political, social, and eco-
nomic conduits through which water ows and to identify how power relations
infuse the metabolic transformation of water as it becomes urban. These ows
of water that are simultaneously physical and social carry in their currents the
embodiment of myriad social struggles and conicts. The exploration of these
ows narrates stories about the citys structure and development. Yet these
ows also carry the potential for an improved, more just, and more equitable
right to the city and its water. The ows of power that are captured by urban
water circulation also suggest how the question of urban sustainability is not
just about achieving sound ecological and environmental conditions, but rst
and foremost about a social struggle for access and control; a struggle not just
for the right to water, but for the right to the city itself.
4 Introduction: The Power of Water
Flows of Power: Nature, Power,
and the City
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Hybrid Waters: On Water, Nature,
and Society
We have before us, here and now, a whole. It is both the condition for pro-
duction and the product of action itself, the place for mankind and the
object of its pleasure: the earth.
Lefebvre 1995: 133
. . . a thing cannot be understood or even talked about independently of
the relations it has with other things. For example, resources can be dened
only in relationship to the mode of production which seeks to make use of
them and which simultaneously produces them through both the physical
and mental activity of the users. There is, therefore, no such thing as a
resource in abstract or a resource which exist as a thing in itself.
Harvey 1980: 212
A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a
creature of social reality as well as a creature of ction.
Haraway 1991: 149
The two extremes, local and global, are much less interesting than the inter-
mediary arrangements that we are calling networks . . . Is it our fault if the
networks are simultaneously real, like nature, narrated, like discourse, and
collective, like society?
Latour 1993: 122, 126
1.1 Water and the urbanization of nature
1.1.1 Critical waters
In recent years, we have become increasingly aware of the importance of water
as a critical good, and questions of water supply, access, and management,
both in quantitative and qualitative terms, have become key issues (Gleick
1993; Postel 1992; Stauffer 1998). The proliferating commodication and pri-
vatization of water management systems; the combination of Global Environ-
mental Change with increased demands from cities, agriculture, and industry
for reasonably clean water; the inadequate access of almost a billion people on
the planet to clean water (over half of whom live in large urban centres); the
proliferating geopolitical struggle over the control of river basins; the popular
resistance against the construction of new megadams; the political struggles
around water privatization projects; and many other issues; have brought water
politics to the foreground of national and international agendas (Shiklomanov
1990; 1997; Herrington 1996; Roy 2001).
In the twentieth century, water scarcity was seen as a problem primarily
affecting developing societies (Anton 1993). However, at the turn of the new
century, water problems are becoming increasingly globalized. In Europe, the
area bordering the Mediterranean, notably Spain, southern Italy, and Greece,
is arguably the location in which the water crisis has become most acute, both
in quantitative and qualitative terms (Batisse and Gernon 1989; Margat 1992;
Swyngedouw 1996a). However, northern European countries, such as the UK,
Belgium, and France, have also seen increasing problems with water supply,
water management, and water control (Haughton 1996), while transitional
societies in eastern Europe are faced with mounting water supply problems
(Thomas and Howlett 1993). The Yorkshire drought in England, for example,
or the Walloon/Flemish dispute over water rights are illuminating examples
of the intensifying conict that surrounds water issues (Bakker 1999). Cities
in the global South and the global North alike are suffering from a deteri-
oration in their water supply infrastructure and in their environmental and
social conditions in general (Lorrain 1995; Brockerhoff and Brennan 1998).
Up to 50% of urban residents in the developing worlds megacities have no
easy access to reasonably clean and affordable water. The myriad socio-
environmental problems associated with decient water supply conditions
threaten urban sustainability, social cohesion, and, most disturbingly, the
livelihoods of millions of people (Niemczynowicz 1991). It is not surprising,
then, to nd that issues of water have become highly contested. Political
conict, ecological problems, and social tensions multiply as the competition
for access to water intensies (Worster 1985; Hundley 1992; Shiva 2002).
Yet, cities are becoming increasingly thirsty (Cans 1994). This book will
concentrate on the thorny relationship between the urbanization process and
socio-ecological conditions. In the process, it will argue that urbanization is
primarily a particular socio-spatial process of metabolizing nature, of urban-
izing the environment.
Urban water issues have traditionally been approached from a predomin-
antly engineering, economic, or managerial approach, with precious little
attention paid to the central role of social and political questions (Goubert
1989). The social risk associated with growing water problems as manifesta-
tions of wider socio-ecological and political ecological changes have been even
less scrutinized. The problematic water supply and access conditions in many
of the cities in the Global Southcities as varied as Jakarta, Mexico City,
Lagos, Cochabamba, or Guayaquiltestify to the growing risk and associated
8 Water, Nature, and Society
social and political tensions in this domain. In light of mounting environmen-
tal concerns (global climate change, pollution, soil degradation, etc.), environ-
mental risks are viewed as becoming increasingly central to political and social
issues, debates, and approaches (see Beck 1992; 1995). In light of real or per-
ceived risks of water crises, a review of the way in which the hydrological cycle,
water management, water politics, and water economics are understood and
theorized is long overdue.
It is in many ways astonishing that in the ballooning literature on the envi-
ronment and among the innumerable environmental social movements, the
city often gures in a rather marginal or, worse, an antithetical manner. Even
more surprising is the almost complete absence of a serious engagement with
the environmental problematic in the prolic literature on the city.' At a time
when the world is rapidly approaching a situation in which more than half of
its population dwells in large cities, the environmental question is generally
often circumscribed to either rural or threatened natural environments or to
global problems. Yet, the urbanization process is central to the momentous
environmental changes and alleged problems that have inspired the emergence
of environmental issues on the political agenda.
1.1.2 The urbanization of nature
In Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, David Harvey (1996) insists
that there is nothing particularly unnatural about New York City or any other
city. Cities are dense networks of interwoven socio-spatial processes that are
simultaneously human, material, natural, discursive, cultural, and organic.
The myriad transformations and metabolisms that support and maintain
urban life, such as water, food, computers, and movies always involve innitely
interconnected environmental and social processes (Swyngedouw 1999). Imag-
ine, for example, standing on a busy street corner of any city in the world and
considering the socio-environmental metabolic relations that come together in
this global/local place. Smells, tastes, and bodies from all nooks and crannies of
the world are oating by, consumed, displayed, narrated, visualized, and trans-
formed. Shops and restaurants play to the tune of eco-sensitive shopping and
the multi-billion pound eco-industry while competing with McDonalds burg-
ers and Dunkin Donuts. The sounds of world music vibrate from music shops
while people, spices, clothes, foodstuffs, and materials from all over the planet
whirl by. The neon lights are fed by the processes of nuclear ssion, coal, or gas
burning in far-off power plants, while the cars consume fuels from oil deposits
and pump CO
into the air, affecting forests and climates around the globe.
These disparate processes trace the global geographic mappings that ow
Water, Nature, and Society 9
' With some exceptions, such as: Davis (1990; 1995; 1998), Cronon (1991), Keil (1994; 1995;
1998), Keil and Desfor (1996), Gandy, (1996; 1999; 2002), Harvey (1996), Swyngedouw (1996b; 1997),
Swyngedouw and Kaka (2000); Kaka and Swyngedouw (2000).
through the urban landscape and produce cities as palimpsests of densely
layered bodily, local, national, and globalbut geographically depressingly
unevensocio-ecological processes. This intermingling of things material and
things symbolic produces a particular socio-environmental milieu that welds
nature, society, and the city together in a deeply heterogeneous, conicting, and
often disturbing whole (Swyngedouw 1996b). The socio-ecological footprint
of the city has become global. There is no longer an outside or limit to the city,
as the urban process harbours social and ecological processes that are embed-
ded in dense and multilayered networks of local, regional, national, and global
In the emerging literature on the sustainable city, little attention has thus
far been paid to the urban as a process of socio-ecological change,` while dis-
cussions about global environmental problems and the possibilities for a sus-
tainable future customarily ignore the urban origin of many of the problems.
Of course, environmental issues have been central to urban change and urban
politics for at least a century if not more. Visionaries of all sorts lamented the
unsustainable character of early modern cities and proposed solutions and
plans that would remedy the antinomies of urban life and produce a healthy
wholesome urban living. As Raymond Williams pointed out in The Country
and the City (1985 (1973) ), the transformation of nature and the social rela-
tions inscribed therein are inextricably connected to the process of urbaniza-
tion. The dialectic of the environment and urbanization consolidates a
particular set of social relations through an ecological transformation which
requires the reproduction of those relations in order to sustain it (Harvey
1996: 94). These socio-environmental changes result in the continuous produc-
tion of new natures, of new urban social and physical environmental condi-
tions. All of these processes occur in the realms of power in which social actors
strive to defend and create their own environments in a context of class, ethnic,
racial and/or gender conicts and power struggles. Of course, under capital-
ism, the commodity relation veils and hides the multiple socio-ecological
processes of domination/subordination and exploitation/repression that feed
the capitalist urbanization process and turn the city into a metabolic socio-
environmental process that stretches from the immediate environment to the
remotest corners of the globe. Indeed, the apparently self-evident commodi-
cation of nature that fundamentally underpins a market-based society not only
obscures the social relations of power inscribed therein, but also permits the
disconnection of the perpetual ows of transformed and commodied nature
from its inevitable foundation, i.e. the transformation of nature (Katz 1998). In
sum, the environment of the city (both social and physical) is the result of a his-
torical geographical process of the urbanization of nature (Swyngedouw and
Kaka 2000).
10 Water, Nature, and Society
` Among those who address the issue are Blowers (1993) and Haughton and Hunter (1994), or, for a
more critical perspective, Burgess, Carmona, and Kolstee (1997), Baeten (2000) and Gandy (2002).
Although Henri Lefebvre does not address the environment of the city
directly, he does remind us of what the urban really is, i.e. something akin to
a vast and variegated whirlpool replete with all the ambivalence of a space full
of opportunity, playfulness, and liberating potential, while being entwined
with spaces of oppression, exclusion, and marginalization (Lefebvre 1991
(1974) ). Cities seem to hold the promise of emancipation and freedom
whilst skilfully mastering the whip of repression and domination (Merrield
and Swyngedouw 1996). Ironically, the relations of domination and power
that infuse urban practices and which are contested in innumerable ways
help to create the differentiated environments that give cities their sweeping
vitality. At the same time, these forms of resistance and subversion of dom-
inant values tend to perpetuate the conservative imagery of cities as places
of chaos, social, and environmental disintegration, and moral decay. Perpetual
change and an ever-shifting mosaic of environmentally and socio-culturally
distinct urban ecologiesvarying from the manufactured and manicured
landscaped gardens of gated communities and high-technology campuses to
the ecological war-zones of depressed neighbourhoods with lead-painted
walls, asbestos-covered ceilings, waste dumps, and pollutant-infested areas
still shape the choreography of a capitalist urbanization process. Environ-
mental ideologies, practices, and projects are part and parcel of this dialectical
process of the urbanization of nature. Needless to say, the above construc-
tionist perspective considers the process of urbanization to be an integral part
of the production of new environments and new natures, which sees both
nature and society as fundamentally combined historically geographical pro-
duction processes (see, among others, Smith 1984; 1996; 1998; Castree 1995).
This perspective has major consequences for political strategy. As Lewontin
[T]he constructionist view . . . is of some consequence to human action. A rational
environmental movement cannot be built on the demand to save the environment,
which, in any case, does not exist. . . . Remaking the world is the universal property of
living organisms and is inextricably bound up with their nature. Rather, we must decide
what kind of world we want to live in and then try to manage the process of change as
best we can approximate it. (Lewontin 1997: 1378)
In this sense, there is no such thing as an unsustainable city in general,
but rather there are a series of urban and environmental processes that nega-
tively affect some social groups while beneting others. A just urban socio-
environmental perspective, therefore, always needs to consider the question
of who gains and who pays and to ask serious questions about the multiple
power relations through which deeply unjust socio-environmental condi-
tions are produced and maintained. This requires sensitivity to the political
ecology of urbanization rather than invoking particular ideologies and views
about the qualities that are assumed to be inherent in nature itself. Before we
can embark on outlining the dimensions of an urban political ecological
Water, Nature, and Society 11
enquiry, we need to consider the matter of nature in greater detail, in particu-
lar in light of the accelerating process by which nature become urbanized
through the deepening metabolic interactions between social and ecological
1.2 The question of nature: hybrid worlds
There remains nothing, in culture or nature, which has not been transformed, and pol-
luted, according to the means and interests of modern industry. (Guy Debord 1990: 10)
In fact, nature is merely the uncoded category that modernists oppose to culture, in
the same way that, prior to feminism, man was the uncoded category opposed to
woman. By coding the category of natural object, anthropological science loses the
former nature/culture dichotomy. Here, there is an obvious link with feminism. Noth-
ing more can be done with nature than with the older notion of man. (Bruno Latour
1998: 238)
Early in 1998 (Le Monde, 17 January), controversy arose in the Paris region
about IBMs continued tapping of ancient underground aquifers. The com-
panys manufacturing processes require large volumes of water of the highest
purity to cleanse the micropores on chips. Environmentalists seeking to protect
historical natural waters were outraged; the water company, Lyonnaise des
Eaux, was worried about the potential loss of water and, consequently, of
future dividends; while the state at a variety of scales was caught up in the
myriad tensions ensuing from this: protection of the natural environment ver-
sus economic priorities, the competing claims of different companies, etc. The
ancient underground waters fused with politics, economics, and culture in
intricate ways.
Later the same year, the Southeast Asian nancial bubble imploded. Global
capital moved spasmodically from place to place, leaving cities like Jakarta
with social and physical wastelands in which dozens of unnished skyscrapers
are dotted over the landscape while thousands of unemployed children,
women, and men roam the streets in search of survival. In the meantime, El
Nios global dynamic was wreaking havoc in the region with its climatic dis-
turbances. Concrete buildings that had once promised continued capital accu-
mulation for Indonesia now held nothing more than puddles of stagnant water
providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Malaria and dengue fever sud-
denly joined with unemployment and social and political mayhem in shaping
Jakartas cityscape. Global capital fused with global climate, with local power
struggles, and with socio-ecological conditions to reshape Jakartas social ecol-
ogy in profound, radical, and deeply troubling ways.
In 1997, the scientic community was thrilled and the wider public shocked
when Scottish researchers revealed that they had been able for the rst
12 Water, Nature, and Society
time to clone a higher organism. The cloned sheep, appropriately called
Dolly, outraged environmentalists, initiated a moral debate about the rights
of humans to tamper with and reconstruct nature, excited the bio-technology
venture capitalists who imagined a burgeoning multi-billion pound new indus-
try, and incensed feminists who considered Dolly to be a soulmate subjected
to the whims and desires of a patriarchical, domineering, and manipulative
male order. Meanwhile, the scientists congratulated themselves on their break-
through in disentangling and commanding the web of life.
These are just three examples from a proliferating number of cases in which
the traditional distinction between environment and society, between nature
and culture becomes blurred, ambiguous, and problematic. They also capture
current arguments over the nature of nature. What I wish to undertake here is
a more detailed exploration of the challenges and implications arising from the
examples given above, and a tentative suggestion of avenues for exploring and
transforming the world in an emancipatory fashion. The above stories exem-
plify what is at the core of Bruno Latours critique of the purifying rituals that
have plagued modern science ever since the Enlightenment. The desire of sci-
entists to divide the world into two separate poles, nature on the one hand and
culture on the other, seems to have lost much of its explanatory and political
power in an era when it is becoming increasingly apparent that things natural
and things cultural do not exist side by side as the two opposite poles of a
dialectical unity. As Latours quote suggests, we have to abandon the categories
of nature and culture altogether. In We Have Never been Modern, Latour
(1993) argues how the Gordian knot that weaves together the natural and
social has been cut through by the sword of the purifying rituals that became
encoded in the scientic enterprise of the Enlightenment. It was precisely this
unruly binarization that permitted scientists and engineers to decode some of
the intricacies of parts of the world (while, of course, being totally unaware of
the socially and culturally signicant meanings that became scripted into their
scientic explanations). More importantly, the particular knowledge of the
puried natural world that was generated by the practices and gazes of the sci-
entists permitted precisely the proliferation of the hybrid things mentioned
above. Scientic knowledge and practices fused with physical metabolic
processes to produce socio-natural and socio-technical hybrid complexes. In
many ways, the separation between nature and society accelerated the forma-
tion of these socio-natural cyborgs and quasi-objects of which H
O, Dolly, or
(see Haraway 1991; 1997; Lykke 1996) have become canonical
examples. Similarly, urban and regional landscapes, climate change, ozone
Water, Nature, and Society 13
It is, of course, not a coincidence that the cloned sheep was female and given a name usually associ-
ated with a female playmate, which combines male-oriented sexually explicit characteristics with a
naivety that renders her easily subject to male fantasies and manipulations. Dolly became an icon of a
commodied, sexist, and manipulative academic industry.
depletion in the stratosphere and ozone overconcentration in the troposphere,
El Nio and the forest res in Indonesia, prions and BSE, the threat of peren-
nially polluted drinking water, and risks of droughts and oods, the daily
struggle many have to wage to obtain reasonably clean water all testify to the
myriad ways in which the natural and the social have transgressed and continue
to blur the boundaries that modern science, including geography, have tried to
spin around the natural and social worlds. Indeed, on closer inspection, the
city, water, ozone, BSE, Dolly, and human bodies are networks of interwoven
processes that are simultaneously human and natural, real and ctional,
mechanical and organic. There is nothing purely social or natural about them,
even less asocial or a-natural: these things are natural and social, real and
ctional. Society and nature, representation and being, are inseparable,
integral to each other, innitely bound up. Simultaneously, these hybrid socio-
natural things are full of contradictions, tensions and conicts (Castree and
MacMillan 2001).
Their very existence has a lot to say both about modernitys project of pur-
ication and about self-described post-modern debates on the importance
of the sign. To start with the latter, the existence of hybrids of the kind
exemplied above is a constant reminder and proof of the impossibility of
separating representation from being, the sign from the signied, the
discursive from the material. In terms of what this hybridization has to say
about modernitys purication project, I shall argue that the way in which these
socio-natural hybrids encompass contradictions, tensions, and conicts
shows that the scientic endeavour of slicing the Gordian knot binding
the natural and the social together has only been accomplished at a discur-
sive/scientic level. The separation worked at the epistemological level, that is
as a way of understanding the world, and as such has indeed managed to pro-
duce knowledge. The problem with this epistemological perspective, once it
became hegemonic, is that it eventually turned from a dominant epistemology
to a dominant ontology, that is a strong belief that the world was actually onto-
logically split into things natural and things social. This translocation of epis-
temology into ontology was not of course without profound social, political,
and cultural implications and was indeed highly relevant to the historical,
social, cultural, and political background against which it happened. As
Latour argues, the proliferation of hybrids permits (and even necessitates)
everyone (including scientists) to see the impossibility of an ontological basis
for such a separation. Their very existence is proof of the aw of such an argu-
ment. The irony, of course, is that hybridization emerged precisely from the
very laboratories whose fundamental purpose had been to rule out (outlaw)
In the next section, I shall tentatively suggest a research programme to
explore the proliferation of quasi-objects and cyborgs in the present world,
and attempt to contribute to the formulation of an emancipatory political-
ecological programme.
14 Water, Nature, and Society
1.3 On hybrids and socio-nature:
ow, process, and dialectics
1.3.1 The materialist legacy
Karl Marxs historical materialism was arguably the rst coherent attempt to
theorize the internal metabolic relationships that shape the transformations of
the earths surface. In Grundrisse, in Capital and, in particular, in The German
Ideology, Marx insisted on the natural foundations of social development:
The rst premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human
individuals. Thus the rst fact to be established is the physical organisation of these
individuals and their consequent relationship to the rest of nature . . . The writing of
history must always set out from these natural bases and their modication in the course
of history through the action of men . . . [M]en must be in a position to live in order to
be able to make history . . . The rst historical act is thus the production of the means
to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself. (Marx (1974 (1846): 42, 48)
This production process is basically a labour process (in the widest possible
sense of the word). Labouring is therefore nothing other than engaging the
natural physical and mental forces and capabilities of humans in a metabolic
physical/material process with other human and non-human natural condi-
tions and actors. Metabolism is the central metaphor for Marxs denition of
labour and for analysing the relationship between human and nature:
Labour is, rst of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man,
through his own actions, mediates, regulates, and controls the metabolism between him-
self and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in
motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head, and hands,
in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs.
Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he
simultaneously changes his own nature. . . . [labouring] is the purposeful activity aimed
at the production of use-values. It is an appropriation of what exists in nature for the
requirements of man. It is the universal condition for the metabolic interaction between
man and nature, the everlasting nature-imposed condition of human existence, and it is
therefore independent of every form of that existence, or rather it is common to all
forms of society in which human beings live. (Marx 1971 (1867): 283, 290)
For Marx, this socio-natural metabolism is the foundation of and possibil-
ity for history, a socio-environmental history through which the nature of
humans and non-humans alike is transformed. To the extent that labour con-
stitutes the universal premise for metabolic interaction with nature, the
particular social relations through whom this metabolism of nature is enacted
shape its very form. Clearly, any materialist approach insists that nature is an
integral part of the metabolism of social life. Social relations operate in and
through metabolizing the natural environment and transform both society
and nature.
Water, Nature, and Society 15
Marx undoubtedly borrowed the notion of metabolic interaction from von
Liebig, the founding theoretician of modern agricultural chemistry. In fact, the
original German word is stoffwechsel, which simultaneously means circula-
tion, exchange AND transformation of material elements. As Foster (2000)
argues, the notion of metabolism is central to Marxs political economy and is
directly implicated in the circulation of commodities and, consequently, of
The economic circular ow then was closely bound up, in Marxs analysis, with the
material exchange (ecological circular ow) associated with the metabolic interaction
between human beings and nature. (Foster 2000: 1578)
Under capitalist social relations, then, the metabolic production of use-
values operates in and through specic control and ownership relations and in
the context of the mobilization of both nature and labour to produce com-
modities (as forms of metabolized socio-natures) with an eye towards the real-
ization of the embodied exchange value. The circulation of capital as value in
motion is, therefore, the combined metabolic transformations of socio-natures
in and through the circulation of money as capital under social relations that
combine the mobilization of capital and labour power. New socio-natural
forms are continuously produced as moments and things in this metabolic
process (see Grundman 1991; Benton 1989; 1996; Burkett 1999; Foster 2000).
While nature provides the foundation, the dynamics of social relations produce
natures and societys history. Whether we consider the production of dams, the
re-engineering of rivers, the transguration of DNA codes, or the construction
of a skyscraper, they all testify to the particular capitalist social relations
through which socio-natural metabolisms are organized. Of course, the ambi-
tion of classical Marxism was wider than reconstructing the dialectics of his-
torical socio-natural transformations and their contradictions. It also insisted
on the ideological notion of nature in bourgeois science and society and
claimed to uncover the real Truth through the excavation of underlying
socio-ecological processes (Schmidt 1971; Smith 1984; Benton 1989). As Marx
insisted in Grundrisse:
It is not the unity of living and active humanity with the natural, inorganic conditions
of their metabolic exchange with nature, and hence their appropriation of nature, which
requires explanation, or is the result of a historic process, but rather the separation
between these inorganic conditions of human existence and this active existence, a
separation which is completely posited only in the relation of wage labour and
capital. (Marx 1973 (1858): 489)
However, by concentrating on the labour process per se, some Marxist analy-
sisparticularly during the twentieth centurytended to replicate the very
problem it meant to criticize. By relegating nature to the substratum for the
unfolding of social relations, in particular labour relations, it maintained the
material basis for social life while relegating natural processes to a realm out-
16 Water, Nature, and Society
side the social. Ironically, this is almost identical to the bourgeois ideology
which views nature as external to society, yet universal in its functioning.
Put simply, the overemphasis on the social relations under capitalism that
characterized much of Marxist analysis tended to abstract away from or
ignore the metabolic relation with nature and resulted in a partial blindless in
twentieth-century Marxism to questions of political ecology and socio-
ecological metabolisms.
Neil Smiths Uneven Development (1984) represented a milestone in the repo-
sitioning of nature and social-natural metabolism within the core of historical
materialist analysis, by insisting that nature is an integral part of a process of
production. The latter concept, borrowed from Henri Lefebvre (1991 (1974) ),
suggests that nature itself is a historical geographical process (time/place spe-
cic), insists on the inseparability of society and nature, and maintains the
unity of socio-nature as a historically produced thing. In brief, both society
and nature are produced, hence malleable, transformable, and transgressive.
Smith does not suggest that all non-human processes are socially produced,
but argues that the idea of some sort of pristine nature (First Nature in
Lefebvres account) becomes increasingly problematic as historical socio-
nature produces entirely new nature over space and time, and the number of
hybrids and quasi-objects proliferates and multiplies. Indeed, the objects and
subjects of daily life have always been socio-natural, and with the process of
modernization have become increasingly so. Consider, for example, the socio-
ecological transformations of entire ecological systems (through agriculture,
for example), sand and clay metabolized into concrete buildings, or the con-
tested production of new genomes such as Oncomouse
(Haraway 1997).
Anthony Giddens (1990) suggests that in this context we have reached The
End of Nature. Of course, he does not imply that nature has disappeared, but
rather that there is no longer anything out there which has not been trans-
formed, tainted, or metabolized by society/culture. Whereas pre-modernity
was subject to the consequences of nature, modernity attacked nature by trans-
forming it. The End of Nature implies, therefore, the construction of a new
nature, a nature that still hides serious consequences from humans. This is the
theme Ulrich Beck (1992; 1995) elaborates. The possibility of producing new
nature, ranging from nuclear installations to dams, entails the proliferation of
risk. Risk should be understood here not in terms of hazards, but in terms of
the unexpected and unknowable implications of producing new nature and the
problems that individuals, social groups, states, and science face in the process.
A new modernity looms around the corner, one in which tension and conict
are still rife, but one which also holds the promise of fabricating socio-nature
more in tune with the desires, aspirations, and demands of humans.
In sum, the world is a historical geographical process of perpetual metabo-
lism in which social and natural processes combine in a historical geo-
graphical production process of socio-nature whose outcome (historical
nature) embodies chemical, physical, social, economic, political, and cultural
Water, Nature, and Society 17
processes in highly contradictory but inseparable manners (Castree 2001).
Every body and every thing is a cyborg, a mediator, part social, part natural,
lacking discrete boundaries and internalizing the multiple contradictory rela-
tions that redene and rework them. Take the example of urban water. Drink-
ing tap water combines the circulation of productive, merchant and nancial
capital with the production of land rent and their associated class relations; the
ecological transformation of hydrological complexes and the biochemical
process of purication with the libidinous sensation and the physiological
necessity of drinking uids; the social regulation of access to water with images
of clarity, cleanliness, health, and virginity. Although it is impossible to separate
these concepts and practices from each other in the ow of water, it does not
take much to identify the profound social, cultural, political, and ecological
forces, struggles and power relations at work in this perpetual metabolizing cir-
culation process of owing water as represented diagramatically in Figure 1.1.
1.3.2 The cultural critique
However true the above may be, it nevertheless remains caught in a represen-
tational discourse of knowledge production which denies, ignores or, at least,
fails to problematize how this representation of socio-nature is itself inevitably
18 Water, Nature, and Society
Fig. 1.1. The dialectics of the material production of socio-nature.
caught in a web of symbolic and discursive meanings. Recent post-Marxist or
post-modernist accounts which have challenged the possibility of construct-
ing The Truth about the world, have therefore challenged the very assumption
on which the above rests. Many Western historical materialist perspectives
made such truth claims their own, both in attempting to unveil the ideological
construction of other epistemes and in arguing for the real science of histori-
cal materialism. As Castree (1995) argues, historians of science and cultural
theorists alike have insisted that socio-nature is not just out there but
becomes constructed via time/place specic modes of technological, political,
and staged appropriation of ltered facts (scientic experiments or meth-
ods are a case in point); that the production of knowledge(s) proceeds in and
through representational systems or discursive apparatuses where reality
resides in the representation, yet remains outside of it; and that the presumed
correspondence of the concept with the thing is as much infused with the cul-
tural position of the representer as with the materiality of the process repre-
sented. Put simply, the representation of reality previously described remains
caught in the sociocultural situatedness of the times and places of representa-
tion (Whatmore 2002). Sensitivity to the constructions of representations of
and discourses on socio-nature are diagrammatically represented in Figure
1.2, which is apparently fundamentally at odds with Figure 1.1.
Water, Nature, and Society 19
Fig. 1.2. The dialectics of the representational production of socio-nature.
Despite the implicit claim made in the rst half of this section of the pos-
sibility of constructing a Truth of socio-nature via a historical materialist
analysis of the internal dialectical relations of the perpetual socio-physical
metabolism of socio-nature, cultural critics and historians of science (nature)
not only question the very possibility of such a claim, but also, more impor-
tantly, insist on the inevitable non-neutrality or positionality of such claims
(Haraway 1991; Latour 1993; 1999). In short, constructing knowledge is in
itself a deeply historical, dialectical, power-full process that is infused with and
embodies the very metabolisms it claims to reconstruct as the very materiality
of socio-nature itself. The real metabolism encircled by a political ecological
episteme is itself encapsulated within and engulfed by the equally real discur-
sive/linguistic/cultural construction of reality. Put simply, our claim of the
socio-natural production process of socio-nature is itself caught in a represen-
tational discourse that produces nature/society (socio-nature) in a particular
partial fashion. This insight, of course, makes our claim to truth as vulnerable
to relativist interpretations as any other. Yet we cannot easily dismiss these
post-Enlightenment criticisms, and in what follows I shall outline a possible
way out of this paradox. This argument, in turn, will frame the analysis of the
urbanization of water in Guayaquil.
1.4 Muddling through HYBRIDITY: ow, process, and dialectics
I believe that Henri Lefebvres work, properly amended, can come to the rescue
here. For Lefebvre (1991), capturing space or socio-nature from a dialectical
and emancipatory perspective implies constructing multiple narratives that
relate material, representational, and symbolic practices, each of which have a
series of particular characteristics, and internalizes the dialectical relations
dened by the other domains, but none of which can be reduced to the other.
Of course, the production process of socio-nature includes both material
processes (constructing edices and manufacturing new genetic materials) as
well as the proliferation of discursive and symbolic representations of nature.
As Lefebvre (1991) insisted, the production of nature (space) transcends
merely material conditions and processes, and becomes related to the produc-
tion of discourses on nature (mainly by scientists, engineers, and the like) on
the one hand and powerful images and symbols inscribed in this thing called
nature (virginity, a moral code, originality, survival of the ttest, wilderness,
etc.) on the other. In short, Lefebvres triad opens up an avenue for enquiry
which insists on the materiality of each of the component elements, but whose
content can be approached only via the excavation of the metabolism of their
becomings in which the internal relations are the signifying and producing
mechanisms. In other words, Lefebvre insists on the ontological priority of
process and ux, which becomes interiorized in each of the moments of the
20 Water, Nature, and Society
production process, but always in a eeting, dynamic, and transgressive
manner. Whether we discuss the process of speciation or the symbolic mean-
ings of nature to city folks, it is the stories of the process of their perpetual
reworking that elucidates their being as part of a process of continuous trans-
formation in which the stories themselves will subsequently take part. Latours
networks and quasi-objects need to be historicized, as following Ariadnes
thread through the Gordian knot of socio-natures networksas Latour sug-
gestsis not good enough if this is stripped from the process of its historical
geographical production (Escobar 1999). Hybridization is a process of pro-
duction, of becoming, of perpetual transgression. Lefebvres insistence on
temporality(ies), combined with Latours networked reconstruction of quasi-
objects, provides a glimpse of how a reworked political ecology of the city
might be practised.
The production process of socio-nature embodies both material pro-
cesses and the proliferating discursive and symbolic representations of
nature. Therefore, if we maintain a view of dialectics as internal relations
(Olman 1993; Balibar 1995; Harvey 1996) as opposed to external recursive
relationships, then we must insist on the need to transcend the binary for-
mations of nature and society and develop a new language that maintains the
dialectical unity of the process of change as embodied in the thing itself.
Things are hybrids or quasi-objects (subjects and objects, material and dis-
cursive, natural and social) from the very beginning. By this I mean that the
world is a process of perpetual metabolism in which social and natural
processes combine in a historical geographical production process of socio-
nature, whose outcome (historical nature) embodies chemical, physical, social,
economic, political, and cultural processes in highly contradictory but insep-
arable manners.
Figure 1.3 summarizes this argument. None of the component parts is
reducible to the other, yet their constitution arises from the multiple dialectical
relations that swirl out from the production process itself. Consequently, the
parts are always implicated in the constitution of the thing and are never out-
side the process of its making. In sum, then, the above perspective is a process-
based episteme in which nothing is ever xed or, at best, xity is the transient
moment that can never be captured in its entirety as the ows perpetually
destroy and create, combine, and separate. This particular dialectical perspec-
tive also insists on the non-neutrality of relations in terms of both their opera-
tion and their outcome, thereby politicizing both processes and uxes. It also
sees distinct categories (nature, society, city, species, water etc.) as the outcome
of materially discursive practices that are creatively destroyed in the very pro-
duction of socio-nature.
It is, of course, this perspective that Harvey (1996) insists on as being the
epistemological entry into the excavation of the political-ecology of capital-
ism. A number of analytical tools arising from this formulation are useful for
the political-ecological study of water:
Water, Nature, and Society 21
1. Although we cannot escape the thing, transformative knowledges about
water and the waterscape can only be gauged from reconstructing the processes
of its production.
2. There is no thing-like ontological or essential foundation (social, nat-
ural, or textual), as the process of becoming and of hybridization has ontolog-
ical and epistemological priority.
3. As every quasi-object/cyborg/hybrid internalizes the multiple relations of
its production, any-thing can be entered as the starting point for undertaking
the archaeology of her/his/its socio-natural metabolism (the production of
her/his/its socio-nature).
4. This archaeology has always already begun and is never ending (cf.
Althussers infamous history as a process without a subject), and is therefore
always open, contested, and contestable.
5. Given the non-neutral and intensely powerful forces through which
socio-nature is produced, this perspective does not necessarily lead to a rela-
tivist position. Every archaeology and its associated narratives and practices
are always implicated in and consequences of this very production process.
Knowledge and practice are always situated in the web of social power rela-
tions that dene and produce socio-nature.
6. The notion of a socio-natural production transcends the binary distinc-
tions between society/nature, material/ideological, and real/discursive.
22 Water, Nature, and Society
Fig. 1.3. The production of socio-nature.
The characteristics of the particular political ecological perspective on
which I draw (see also Benton 1996; Keil and Graham 1998; Keil 2000;
OConnor 1998; Peet and Watts 1996; Swyngedouw 1999; Gandy 2002) can
now be summarized as follows:
1. Environmental and social changes co-determine each other (Noorgaard
1994; OConnor 1994). Processes of socio-environmental change transform
both social and physical environments and produce social and physical milieus
with new and distinct qualities. In other words (urban) environments are com-
bined socio-physical constructions that are actively and historically produced,
both in terms of social content and physical-environmental qualities (Escobar
1999; 2001; Latour 1993; 1999; Roberts and Emel 1992).
2. There is nothing a priori unnatural about produced environments such as
cities, lakes, or irrigated elds (Harvey 1996). Produced environments are spe-
cic historical results of socio-environmental processes.
3. The type and character of physical and environmental change, and the
resulting environmental conditions, are not independent from the specic his-
torical social, cultural, political, or economic conditions and the institutions
that accompany them (Swyngedouw 1997; 1999).
4. All socio-spatial processes are invariably also predicated upon the trans-
formation or metabolism of physical, chemical, or biological components
(Swyngedouw 1996b).
5. These metabolisms produce a series of both enabling and disabling social
and environmental conditions. Indeed, these produced milieus often embody
contradictory tendencies. While environmental (both social and physical)
qualities may be enhanced in some places and for some people, these often lead
to a deterioration of social and physical conditions and qualities elsewhere
(Martinez-Allier 1991; Peet and Watts 1996; Keil 2000).
6. Processes of socio-environmental change are, therefore, never socially or
ecologically neutral. This results in conditions under which particular trajecto-
ries of socio-environmental change undermine the stability or coherence of
some social groups or places, while the sustainability of social groups and
places elsewhere might be enhanced. In sum, the political ecological examina-
tion of the urbanization process reveals the inherently contradictory nature of
the process of socio-environmental change and teases out the inevitable con-
icts (or the displacements thereof ) that infuse socio-environmental change.
7. Particular attention, therefore, is paid to social power relations (whether
material or discursive, economic, political, and/or cultural) through which
socio-environmental processes take place. It is these power geometries and the
social actors who carry them out that ultimately decide who will have access to
or control over, and who will be excluded from access to or control over,
resources or other components of the environment. These power geometries, in
turn, shape the particular social and political congurations and the environ-
ments in which we live.
Water, Nature, and Society 23
8. Questions of socio-environmental sustainability thereby become funda-
mentally political questions. Political ecology attempts to tease out who gains
from and who pays for, who benets from and who suffers (and in what ways)
from particular processes of socio-environmental change. It also seeks answers
to questions about what or who needs to be sustained and how this can be
maintained or achieved.
9. Political-ecological perspectives seek to unravel the nature of the social
relationships that unfold between individuals and social groups and how these,
in turn, are mediated by and structured through processes of ecological
change. In other words, environmental transformation is not independent from
class, gender, ethnic, or other power struggles.
10. It also seeks to question the actual processes of environmental recon-
struction and recasting and advocates a position on sustainability that is
achieved by means of a democratically controlled and organized process
of socio-environmental (re-)construction. The political programme, then, of
political ecology is to enhance the democratic content of socio-environmental
construction by means of identifying the strategies through which a more equi-
table distribution of social power and a more inclusive mode of environmental
production can be achieved.
While reconstructing the production processes of socio-natural networks
along the lines presented above is difcult, I would maintain that such a per-
spective has profound implications for understanding the relationship between
capitalism, modernity, ecology, space, and contemporary social life. It also has
implications for transformative and emancipatory ecological politics.
1.5 Emancipatory hybrids
A number of recent contributions to this debate have begun to address this
problematic in one way or another. William Cronon (1991), for example, in
Natures Metropolis, tells the story of Chicago from the vantage point of the
socio-natural processes that transformed both city and countryside and pro-
duced the particular political ecology that shaped the transformation of the
mid-West and produced a particular American socio-nature. While sympto-
matically silent about the myriad of struggles that have infused this process
(African-American, womens, and workers organizations and struggles are
notoriously absent from or marginalized in his narrative), the book marks
interesting and powerful pointers on the way to a political ecology of the city.
Mike Davis (1990), for his part, in City of Quartz and other recent publica-
tions (Davis 1995; 1998) suggests how nature and society become materially
and discursively constructed in and through the dialectics of Los Angeles
urbanization process, and how multiple social struggles have infused and
shaped this process in deeply uneven, exclusive, and empowering/disempower-
24 Water, Nature, and Society
ing ways. For him, homelessness and racism combine with pollution, earth-
quakes and water scarcity as the most acute socio-ecological problems that
have been produced through the particular form of post-industrial capitalist
development that has shaped Los Angeles as the Third World Megalopolis.
Indeed, the history of Los Angeles urbanization process indicates how
the socio-ecological transformation of desert lands, the manufacture of an
orchard socio-nature, and subsequent construction of silicon landscapes is
paralleled by urbanizing, capturing and controlling ever larger and distant
catchments, by speculatively pushing the frontier of developable land further
outwards and by an ever-changing, but immensely contested and socially sig-
nicant (in terms of access and exclusion; empowerment/disempowerment)
choreography of national laws, rules, and engineering projects (Worster 1985;
Gottlieb and Fitzsimmons 1991). Of course, as the deserts bloomed, ecological
and social disaster hit: water scarcity, pollution, congestion, and lack of
sewage-disposal combined with mounting economic and racial tensions and a
rising environmentalism (OConnor 1998: 118; Gottlieb 1993; Keil and Desfor
1996; Keil 1998). The rhetoric of disaster, risk, and scarcity often provided the
discursive vehicles through which power-brokers could continuously reinvent
their boosterist dream. Picturing a simulacrum of drought, scarcity and a
return to the desert produced a spectacularized vision of the dystopian city
whose fate is directly related to faith in the administrators, engineers, and
technicians who make sure the tap keeps owing and land keeps being devel-
oped. The hidden stories of pending socio-ecological disaster provide the
ferment in which local, regional, and national socio-natures are combined
with engineering narratives, land speculation, and global ows of water, wine,
and money.
Matthew Gandy (2002) narrates with great skill and in exquisite detail the
reworking of nature in New York City, a reworking that is simultaneously
material and physical, and embedded in political, social, and cultural framings
of nature. At the same time, the myriad power relations and political strategies
that infuse the socio-environmental metabolism of New Yorks socio-nature
are meticulously excavated and taken to centre stage in the reconstruction of
contemporary New York as a cyborg city.
In the next chapter, we shall tentatively explore this perspective somewhat
further. Our vantage point will be the circulation of water, its insertion in the
metabolism of the city and in the political ecology of the urbanization process.
The ow of water, in its material, symbolic, political and discursive construc-
tions, embodies and expresses exactly how the production of nature is both
arena and outcome of the tumultuous reordering of socio-nature in ever-
changing and intricate manners. This ow of water as a socio-environmental
metabolic process and its historical geographical production process will be
used as an entry point to excavate the process of modern urbanization in
Guayaquil, Ecuador. The production of the city as a cyborg, excavated
through the analysis of the circulation of hybridized water, opens up a new
Water, Nature, and Society 25
arena for thinking and acting on the city; an arena that is neither local nor
global, but that weaves a network that is always simultaneously deeply local-
ized and extends its reach over a certain scale, a certain spatial surface. The
tensions, conicts and forces that ow with water through the body, the city,
the region and the globe show the cracks in the lines, the meshes in the net,
the spaces and plateaus of resistance and of power.
26 Water, Nature, and Society
The City in a Glass of Water:
Circulating Water, Circulating Power
In the period of which we speak [eighteenth-century France], there reigned
in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The
streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of
mouldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage
and mutton fat; the unaired parlours stank of stale dust, the bedrooms
of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of
chamber-pots. The stench of sulphur rose from the chimneys, the stench of
caustic lyes from the tanneries and from the slaughterhouses came the
stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes;
from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that
of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came
the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers
stank, the marketplaces stank, the churches stank, it stank beneath the
bridges and in the palaces. The peasant stank as did the priest, the appren-
tice as did his masters wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the
King himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the Queen like an old goat,
summer and winter.
Patrick Suskind 1987: 3
2.1 The socio-hydrological metabolism of urban water
In recent years, an impressive body of work has emerged in the wake of the
resurgence of the environmental question on the political agenda, addressing
the environmental implications of urban change or issues related to urban
sustainability (Haughton and Hunter 1994; Satterthwaite 1999). In many, if
not all, of these cases, the environment is dened in terms of a set of ecological
criteria pertaining to the physical milieu. Both urban sustainability and the
environmental impacts of the urban process are primarily understood in terms
of physical environmental conditions and characteristics.
We start from a different position. As explored in Chapter 1, urban water cir-
culation and the urban hydrosocial cycle are the vantage points from which the
urbanization process will be analysed in this book. In this Chapter, a glass of
water will be my symbolic and material entry point into anadmittedly some-
what sketchyattempt to excavate the political ecology of the urbanization
process.' If I were to capture some urban water in a glass, retrace the networks
that brought it there and follow Ariadnes thread through the water, I would
pass with continuity from the local to the global, from the human to the non-
human (Latour 1993: 121). These ows would narrate many interrelated tales:
of social and political actors and the powerful socio-ecological processes that
produce urban and regional spaces; of participation and exclusion; of rats and
bankers; of water-borne disease and speculation in water industry related
futures and options; of chemical, physical, and biological reactions and trans-
formations; of the global hydrological cycle and global warming; of uneven
geographical development; of the political lobbying and investment strategies
of dam builders; of urban land developers; of the knowledge of engineers; of
the passage from river to urban reservoir. In sum, my glass of water embodies
multiple tales of the city as a hybrid. The rhizome of underground and sur-
face water ows, of streams, pipes and networks is a powerful metaphor for
processes that are both social and ecological (Kaka and Swyngedouw 2000).
Water is a hybrid thing that captures and embodies processes that are simul-
taneously material, discursive, and symbolic.
Water is of course biochemically vital, embodies deep social meaning
and cultural value, and internalizes powerful socio-economic and physical
relations. It is increasingly becoming part of a new accumulation strategy
(Fitzsimmons 1989; Katz 1998) through the privatization of waters that were
often part of a common or collective good. Yet life in any form is scarcely
imaginable in the absence of water. The socio-natural production of the city is
predicated upon some system of circulating water. The multiple temporalities
and interpenetrating circulations of water (the hydrological cycle, canalization
and distribution networks, treatment stations, etc.) illustrate the perpetual
metabolism and mobilizations of water. Moreover, there are water problems of
gigantic dimensions worldwide (Ward 1997; Petrella 1998), with over one bil-
lion people lacking access to reasonably potable water. Mega-cities in the
developing world suffer from immense water shortages, while the water metab-
olism in developed cities threatens the very metabolism of urban life as pollu-
tants of all kinds challenge the very sustainability of the capitalist city and the
metabolism of social and biological life (Gleick 1993; Postel 1992). In addition,
water carries powerful symbolic meanings (health, purity, naturalness), which
in recent years have been successfully mined by a burgeoning global multi-
billion dollar mineral water industry.
Our glass of water relates all things/subjects in a network, connects the most
intimate of socio-spatial relations, inserts them into a mesmerizing political
economy of urban, national and international development, and is part of a
28 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
' For fuller accounts of aspects of this argument, see Swyngedouw (1995a, b; 1996b). For a more
detailed reconstruction of various interwoven water narratives, see Swyngedouw (1999).
chain of local, regional, national, and global circulations of water, money,
texts, and bodies. In this sense, I would insist that we can reconstruct, and hence
theorize the urbanization process as a political ecological process with water as
the entry point: water that embodies biochemical and physical properties, cul-
tural and symbolic meanings, and socio-economic characteristics simultane-
ously and inseparably. These multiple metabolisms of water are structured and
organized through socio-natural power relationsrelations of domination
and subordination, of access and exclusion, of emancipation and repression
which then become etched into the ow and metabolisms of circulating water.
This ow of water produces not only a physical geography and a material land-
scape, but also a symbolic and cultural landscape of power. The waterscape
is a liminal landscape (to use Zukins words (1991) ) in which the cyborg
character of the transgression between socio-nature and natures society is per-
petually emptied out, lled in again, and transformed (see Keil 1994). This cir-
culation of water is embedded in and interiorizes a series of multiple power
relations along ethnic, gender, and class lines (see Swyngedouw 1995a). These
situated power relations, in turn, swirl out and operate at a variety of inter-
related geographical scale levels, form the scale of the body upward to the
political ecology of the city to the global scale of uneven development.
The capturing, sanitizing, and biochemical metabolizing of water to produce
urban drinking water simultaneously homogenizes, standardizes, and trans-
forms it into a commodity as well as into the real/abstract homogenized quali-
ties of money power in its manifold symbolic, cultural, social, and economic
meanings. The struggle for water, and competition over access to it, capture
wider processes of the political ecology of urbanization, and produce the mul-
tiple and scaled power relationships to which we will now turn our attention.
2.2 Urbanizing water
It is, of course, fairly trivial to say that the urbanization process is predicated
upon myriad socio-ecological transformations that affect the geographies of
places both nearby and far away (Cronon 1991; Hundley 1992; Gottlieb and
Fitzsimmons 1991). This intense socio-environmental transformation is
required to sustain the dynamics of contemporary urban change, resulting in
the formation of various new environmentsfrom concrete urban landscapes
to aquatic ecosystems around reservoirs. The process of urbanization is both a
historically specic accumulation of socio-environmental processes and the
arena through which these transformations take place. The material and
imagined bond between water and urban space as social creations provides an
ever-changing material and metaphorical surface that produces a narrative of
the history and geography of water. Water has always possessed powerful con-
notations and conveyed important symbolic messages. Naturalness, virginity,
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 29
healing, and purication have often been associated with water, while water
spectacles have in many ways testied to the power and the glory of various
kinds of (urban) elites (Moore and Lidz 1994; Schama 1995). For example, the
cultural links between female nudity and the tap water of the bathroom began
to be formed in the second half of the nineteenth century, as the sprinkling of
water from an intricately engineered network of pipes over the naked (female)
body became part of the fantasy of sexual intimacy (Illich 1986: 1). Simultane-
ously, water became a commodity, expressing the social relationships within
the space through which it circulated and to which it gave form and content.
The biological necessity of water ensured that urbanization was predicated
upon organizing, controlling, and mastering its socio-natural circulation. For
example, in Mexico City, 60% of all urban potable water is distributed to 3% of
the households, whereas 50% make do on 5%. In Guayaquil, 65% of the urban
dwellers receive 3% of the produced potable water at a price that is at least two
hundred times higher (20,000%) than that paid by the low-volume consumer
connected to the piped urban water network. The mechanisms of exclusion
from and access to water manifest the power relationships through which the
geography of cities is shaped and transformed. The history of the urbanization
of water illustrates the intricate ways in which the image and reality of water
access and use is bound up with social transformations and the formation of
the modern city. The urbanization of life and the urbanization of water are
intimately connected. But this urbanization of water as we know and accept it
today is dependent on viewing water circulation as a perpetual movement from
the natural source to and through the city via a series of social and physical
metabolic transformations, until it ends up once again at the source, reinte-
grated into the ow of natural water.
Cities rst became dependent on water owing through aqueducts that
pierced the city wall, or from wells penetrating the earth. Nine major aque-
ducts, with a total length of over 400 kilometres, supplied approximately 400
litres of water per capita per day to ancient Rome, which had a population
of approximately a million by :n 100. However, one fth of this water was
assigned to the emperor, whilst another two-fths fed the citys 591 fountains
and dozen public baths (see Scobie 1986). In contrast, in 1823, London,
Frankfurt, and Paris had 3 litres per capita per day, a gure which had only
risen to approximately 40 litres by 1936 (Mumford 1961); a volume less than
that found in many cities in the colonial or post-colonial world at that time.
Water brought from afar to ancient non-Roman cities was usually absorbed by
city soil, as sewers that channelled piped water remained the exception. In
Rome, water from fountains owed over the streets and into the Tiber.
2.2.1 The invention of circulation
The concept of water circulation, with water following a given path into,
through, and nally out of the city by the sewers remained foreign to western
30 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
urban imaginations, spatial representations, and engineering systems until the
nineteenth century. Modern urbanization, highly dependent on the mastering
of circulating water, is linked with the representation of water as a circulatory
system. Before the discovery of circulatory systems, the movement of water
was seen merely as evaporation: the separation of the spirit from the water
(Goubert 1989). Phlogiston theory, the representation of the respiratory
system, plant growth, and the physiocratic view of the production of material
wealth all indicate that Renaissance people did not conceive of circulation as
an innite cyclical process. The idea of a material owing forever back to its
own source signalled a major breakthrough. When William Harvey stated his
ideas of the double circulation of blood in the vascular system of the body in
1628, a revolutionary insight came into being which would begin to permeate
and dominate, both metaphorically and materially, everyday life, engineering
and academic practice for centuries to come.` By the end of the seventeenth
century, medical practice had accepted the idea of the circulatory (metabolic)
system, and by the nineteenth century the metabolic circulation of chemical
substances and organic matter became increasingly accepted and began to
form the basis of modern ecology.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the term circulation of liquids
had become established in many sciences, from the ow of sap in plants to the
circulation of matter in chemical reactions (Teich 1982). From about 1750,
wealth and money were spoken of as circulating as though they were liquids,
owing incessantly as part of a process of accumulation and growth, and
society began to be imagined as a system of conduits (Sennett 1994). Liquid-
ity arose as a dominant metaphor after the French Revolution: ideas, newspa-
pers, gossip andafter 1880trafc, air, and power were said to circulate.
Montesquieu in Lettres Persanes (p. 117) speaks of [T]he more circulation
the more wealth and in lEsprit des Lois of [M]ultiply wealth by increasing
circulation . Jean Jacques Rousseau (1766) refers to [T]his useful and
fecund circulation that enlivens all societys labour and to a circulation of
labouras one speaks of the circulation of the money (cited in Illich 1986: 23).
Adam Smith and, in particular, Karl Marx conceived of a capitalist economy
as a metabolic system of circulating money and commodities, carried by and
structured through social interactions and relations, in which accumulation is
dependent on the swiftness by which money circulates through society. Each
hiccup or deceleration of circulation threatened to unleash the infernal forces
of devaluation, crisis, and chaos. Societys wealth and the relationships of
power on which wealth is constructed were seen as being intrinsically bound up
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 31
` The rst person to suggest the circulation of blood in the arterial system was apparently Ibn-
an-Naz (physician, born in Baghdad and died in Cairo in 1288) (Illich 1986: 40). The idea of circulation
remained alien to the imagination of sixteenth-century Europeans. Two sixteenth-century scientists sus-
pected what Harvey would later discover: Servetus (a Spanish genius and heretic burnt by Calvinhe
also edited Ptolemys geography in Lyon and was a student of Vesalius in Paris) and Realdus Colombus
of Padua (also a student of Vesalius). Harvey was a student of Vesalius in 1603.
with and expressed by the circulation speed of money in all its forms (capital,
labour, commodities) (Harvey 2002). The development and consolidation of
circulating money as the basis for material life and the relations of domination
and exclusion through which the circulation of money is organized and main-
tained shapes the urbanization of capital (Harvey 1985) and, inevitably, the
urbanization of water.
The status of water within city space changed as the purifying and cleaning
power of water began to dominate the metaphorically constructed healing and
rejuvenating water rituals of baptism and exorcising miasma. By the mid-
nineteenth century some British architects begin to speak of the inner city
using the same metaphor of circulation, and in 1842 Sir Edwin Chadwick
formulated the ideology of circulating waters effectively for the rst time.
Chadwick (1842) presented a report on the sanitary conditions of the labour-
ing population of Great Britain which Lewis Mumford has called the classic
summary of paleo-technic horrors. In his report, Chadwick imagined the new
city as a social body through which water must incessantly circulate, leaving it
again as dirty sewage. Water ought to circulate through the city without inter-
ruption to wash it of sweat, excrement, and waste. The brisker this ow, the
fewer stagnant pockets that breed pestilence there are and the healthier the city
will be. Unless water constantly circulates through the city, pumped in and
channelled out, the interior space imagined by Chadwick can only stagnate and
rot. This representation of urban space as constructed in and through perpet-
ually circulating ows of water is conspicuously similar to imagining the city as
a vast reservoir of perpetually circulating money. In fact, Chadwicks papers
were published under the title The Health of Nations during the centenary com-
memoration for Adam Smith (Chadwick 1887). Like the individual body and
bourgeois society, the city was now also described as a network of pipes and
conduits. The brisker the ow, the greater the wealth, the health, and hygiene of
the city would be (Vigarello 1988). Just as William Harvey redened the body
postulating the circulation of the blood, so Chadwick redened the city by dis-
covering its needs to be constantly washed (Illich 1986: 45). And of course,
Baron von Haussman, the engineer who masterminded the reorganization of
Pariss cityscape also successfully mobilized the metaphor of circulation to
impress and convince the citys leaders of the necessity of his grandiose project
(Gandy 1999); a project that would permit all sorts of ows, from sewage to
people and commodities, to move more swiftly through the city. Later, David
Harvey (1985) would analyse the circulation of capital and its urbanization as
a perpetuum mobile channelled through a myriad of ever-changing produc-
tion, communication, and consumption networks, driven by a motley crew of
nancial speculators, prot-seeking capitalists, visionary urbanists, and
enlightened elites striving to modernize and civilize urban life.
With this enlightenment idea of circulation, the utopia of the odourless,
clean, puried city appears:
32 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
[The] effort to deodorize utopian city space should be seen as one aspect of the archi-
tectural effort to clear city space for the reconstruction of a modern capital. It can be
interpreted as the repression of smelly persons who unite their separate auras to create
a smelly crowd of commonfolk. Their common aura must be dissolved to make space
for a new city through which clearly delineated individuals can circulate with unlimited
freedom. For the nose of a city without aura is literally a Nowhere, a u-topia. (Illich
1986: 53)
The image and practice of water, now disciplined and harnessed in circulatory
urban water systems, was profoundly transformed. Defecating became a sex-
specic activity for the rst time in history towards the middle of the eighteenth
century, as separate latrines for men and women were set upbut only for spe-
cial occasions (Corbin 1994). At the end of that century, Marie Antoinette had
a door installed to her lavatory, thus turning the act of defecation into an inti-
mate function (Illich 1986: 57). The degree to which it is practised in private
also signals a certain social status and an embracing of superior civic morality
(Vigarello 1988). On 15 November 1793, the French revolutionary convention
solemnly declared each mans right to his own bed, thus enshrining the right to
be surrounded by a buffer zone protecting the citizen from the aura of others.
The private bed, stool, and grave became requisites of a citizens dignity. Chil-
dren began to learn that hygiene and sanitary activities are a solemn, private
process (Goubert 1989), again indicating a profound redenition of the self
and the body in the utopian urban space.
The toilette of the whole city was undertaken in parallel with the privatiza-
tion of body relief and the attempt to retrench peoples auras, reducing each
other to an odourless point in the new civic space. This culminated in the
modern design principles, heralding clean air, ventilation, pure water, and
treated sewage (Kaka and Swyngedouw 2000). Water became a detergent of
smell, as one could move up the social ladder only through eliminating body
smells. It was not until the nineteenth century that soap became associated with
body laundry and the social repression of smell became an element in the class
struggle of the elite in search of cultural capital to distinguish themselves
from the smelly commoners. Shortly afterwards, perfume and the domestica-
tion of aura (Illich 1986: 62) became employed in the act of seduction, no
longer merely covering body smell, but articially providing secondary sexual
characteristics to the new human body. Like so many other characteristics
including work, health, and educationsmell, too, is henceforth conceived as
an abstract quality that is naturally polarized into a female and a male type:
she smells of violets and roses and he of leather and tobacco. The old toilette
of the eighteenth century referred to a hydrophobic process (Illich 1986: 65) of
combing, grooming, powdering, applying make-up and perfumed cosmetics,
dressing, and nally receiving visitors in the boudoir. Frequent cleansing by
means of water was not part of the toilette until the nineteenth century, but by
the 1830s the word had come to mean the sponging of a naked body, invariably
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 33
represented as belonging to a woman. From decade to decade, the amount of
water used in the procedure increased. The toilette came to mean a tub bath,
and around 1880, the industrial production of enamel paints replaced expen-
sive copper with iron or zinc vessels and brought the tub within reach of simple
families (Wright 1960). Toilette retired behind closed doors (together with
perfuming, shitting, and shaving), and began to involve the ow of tap water to
carry soapsuds and excrements to the sewer (Goubert 1989). When the rst
urban water system in Guayaquil was installed, for example, the urban elites
brought nely decorated lavatories and washing bowls from their trips to
Europe to testify to their newly acquired sanitized civic conditions. Lower
classes and indigenous people visited the houses to marvel at these symbols of
a new elite urban order. The total bathroom was not installed overnight. It is
revealing that the place in which the modern body is integrated into the circu-
lation of city waters is called the bath-room. Its initial use, according to the
Oxford English Dictionary (rst mentioned only in the supplement of 1972) is
traced to 1888. The choice of this term indicates that the identication of
nature and the nude, which Ingres, Courbet, Degas, and Renoir had painted as
taking place in rivers, under waterfalls, or in an oriental hammam, was actu-
ally performed in the intimacy of the toilette (Illich 1986: 66). Public space
became increasingly hydrophobic and the public body in the western city des-
perately tried to cover itself as protection from public waters and public gazes
alike. Indeed, as Vigarello (1988: 216) attests, the exclusion of others became
an obligatory element in the cleanliness of the elite.
In sum, the increasingly commodied domestication of water announced
the withdrawal of the urban elite body and bodily hygiene from the public
or semi-public sphere and its retreat into the privacy and intimacy of the
bathroom and the toilet. The hydrophobic public spaces were replaced by
hydrophilic private spaces as bodily encounters were relegated to specially
designed places. This, in turn, redened the body and bodily relations. Nudity
and exposing the naked body to the elements became improper and uncivi-
lized. The new sanitized and deodorized (washed) urban body in a sanitized
urban public civic space redened both class and gender relations. Images of
(predominantly female) sexuality began to revolve around the secrets, inti-
macy, and eroticism associated with the bathroom, the toilet, and the sprink-
ling of domesticated water over the naked body (Corbin 1994). Of course, the
newly de-odorized urban body, embodying quite literally a new civic, modern
ideal, carried by an urban bourgeoisie that was becoming quickly self-
condent of its new role, became re-odorized in new ways, expressing cultural
distinction and power differentiation (Bourdieu 1986). But this new urban civic
body also separated the sanitized bodies of the new urban elites from the
peasant reeking of manure and the sweaty proletarian. Class and gender rela-
tions became impregnated with smell and odour and the body aura became an
element in cultural and social differentiation and power relations (Suskind
1987; Corbin 1994; Rindisbacher 1992).
34 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
Urban waterworks signalled this new class and gender differentiation. The
mechanisms of exclusion from and access to unlimited quantities of potable
water were cemented into the water engineering system itself and remain like
this until this very day. In many Third World cities, for example, the elites, clus-
tering around the water reservoirs, had and have unlimited access to water,
which in addition to the above cultural distinctions, turned this into signi-
cantly longer life expectancy and into valued symbols of cultural capital and
social power. In Guayaquil, permanently irrigated tropical gardens separate
their often militarized urban oases in their gated communities from the urban
desert that surrounds them, fountains in the courtyards testify to their social
position. Images of the smelly peasant and unhygienic indigenous population
re-enforce the position of water as an integral element of social power in the
city and part of the process of the urbanization of nature. Nevertheless, water-
related illnesses and deaths remain the major cause of infant mortality for most
of the worlds population. In short, the urban ecological conquest of water and
the fusion of water circulation with the urbanization process (for a vivid
account see J. Verness futuristic account of Paris (1994) ), its commodied
domestication and related processes of access to and exclusion from access
brought water squarely into the realm of urban social power.
2.2.2 Social power and water control
The domestication of water and the privatization of bodily hygiene were
predicated upon and paralleled by an increasing commodication of water.
The urbanization of water necessitated both ecological transformation (cap-
turing water from underground aquifers or distant catchments, engineering its
ow, negotiating geopolitical relations, transforming its chemical and biologi-
cal properties and so forth) and social transformation. Indeed, the very homog-
enization and standardization of potable urban water propelled the diverse
physical, chemical, and biological natural ows and characteristics of
natures water into the realm of commodity and money circulation with its
abstract qualities and concrete social power relations. Potable water became
legally dened and standardized. Biochemical and physical treatment (adding
or extracting substances) was required to homogenize water according to
scientic politically and socio-culturally dened norms that were enshrined
in binding legislation. Homogenization, standardization, and legal codica-
tion are essential to the commodication process.
The urban conquest and commodication of water brought H
O squarely
into the sphere of money and cultural capital and its associated power rela-
tions, and redrew socio-natural power relations in important new ways. The use
of water for the cleaning of the body and the use of water for the toilette of
city spaces go hand-in-hand but not at the same pace in all modern nations.
However, the urbanization of water through vast engineering systems of
production, conduction, and distribution became an inherent element
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 35
underpinning the urbanization of society in the nineteenth and twentieth cen-
turies. The modern city had become a rhizome of networks and conduits.
The modern engineering systems through which water is mastered and
becomes commodied demand large capital investments with installations that
have a long life-span (sometimes 50 to 100 years) and an immense infrastruc-
ture system that guides the circulation of water in an interconnected way over
a large scale, often covering entire regions (Montano and Coing 1985). It is
clear that such a system requires some form of central control and a coordi-
nated, combined but detailed division of labour (see Wittfogel 1957; Worster
1985). In addition, the quantity, quality, and regularity of the circulating
waters are determined by the weakest link in this detailed technical and social
division of labour. Sufciently large amounts of capital have to be amassed and
sunk into the construction of massive engineering systems with long turnover
times. The early private capital-based urban watering initiatives were gradu-
ally replaced by primarily state-funded investments in public waterworks,
managed by large public or mixed public-private companies (Lorrain 1995)
(see below). Circulating capital had to be captured and organized in xed phys-
ical infrastructures that would permit the free circulation of clean water (as
well as of the waste waters).
In addition, the processes of water production, conduction, and distribution
are necessarily spatially structured, shaping and being shaped by urban and
regional geographies. Producing and providing water is essentially and neces-
sarily a deeply localized activity, while transporting water is a difcultand
costlyprocess. This double tendency of modern water systems towards cen-
tralization and central control on the one hand and the necessarily localized
character of all parts of its circulation process on the other, works itself out in
very contradictory and conicting ways as will be documented in our study of
Guayaquil. Although geo-climatic conditions such as the availability and type
of natural water resources and pluvial regimes, as well as settlement patterns,
are of a great importance for the organization of water management systems,
these physical characteristics cannot be separated from the organization of
human relations. Indeed, the relative scarcity of usable water will only inu-
ence the mode of water management to the extent that social groups will enter
into competition for its utilization and that relations of cooperation and rela-
tions of power will translate themselves into specic institutional, managerial,
and technological systems (Anton 1993). Montano and Coing (1985: 8) sum-
marize this succinctly:
The management of water is, therefore, always the result of the social relationships
which crystallise around its appropriation and its usage. It varies in function of both the
geo-climatic constraints and the relationships of power between users.
The social struggle around water is evidently the result of the deeply exclu-
sive and marginalizing political, economic, and ecological processes that drove
the expansion of the city. The urbanization process is predicated upon the
36 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
mastering and engineering of natures water, with the ecological conquest of
water as a necessary prerequisite for the expansion and growth of the city. At
the same time, the capital required to build and expand the urban landscape is
also generated through the political-ecological transformation of the citys
hinterland (Swyngedouw 1996b; 1997). In short, the political ecological his-
tory of many cities can be written from the perspective of the need to urbanize
and domesticate natures water and the parallel necessity to push the ecological
frontier outward as the city expanded (see Chapters 4 and 5). As such the politi-
cal ecological process produces both a new urban and rural socio-nature. The
citys growth, and the process of water urbanization is closely associated with
successive waves of ecological conquest and the extension of the urban socio-
ecological frontier. Local, regional, and national socio-natures are combined
with engineering narratives, economic discourses and practices, land specula-
tion, the geopolitics of water, and global money ows. Investments in bottled
water companies, speculation in water industry-related nancial instruments
and global/local hydrological cycles fuse together in the production of
hybridized waters and cyborg cities. Water circulation and the urbanization of
water thus become deeply entrenched in the political-ecology of the local and
national state, the international divisions of labour and power, and the local
regional and global hydrological climatic cycles.
In short, the urbanization of water and the social, economic, and cultural
processes associated with the domestication of water brought access to natures
water squarely into the realm of class, gender, and cultural differentiation and
made water subject to an intense struggle for control and/or access. The com-
modication of water, in turn, placed the circulation of water directly in the
sphere of money circulation, which consequently made access to water depen-
dent on positions of social power, both economically and in terms of gender
and culture. Although the particular geographical and institutional congura-
tions vary signicantly from city to city and from country to country depend-
ing on the particular combination of physical and institutional factors, the
twentieth-century urbanization process and the accompanying expansion of
water use signicantly affected the spatial choreography of urban water circu-
lation (Graham and Marvin 2001). For each expanding city, the physical terri-
torial basis on which the successful watering of the city rests needs to expand as
the city grows, in quantitative as well as in qualitative terms (Hundley 1992).
Either new untapped water reserves have to be incorporated in the urban water
cycle or existing water supplies tapped more intensely. In the case of aquifer
water, this leads either to a problem of generalized over-pumping which out-
strips the natural recharge capacities of aquifers or to a gradual decline in the
quality of aquifer waters. The geographical expansion of the ecological foot-
print of urban water not only transforms places and environments far removed
from the city, but also intensies conicts with other users over limited water
supplies. From the vantage point of the early twenty-rst century, there is
increasing evidence that the sustainability of urban development was bought
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 37
at the expense of an expanding water frontier and of geographically widening
the sphere of impact of the urban water cycle, leading to socially conicting
and socio-ecologically unsustainable practices of expanding resource extrac-
tion and intensied struggle for control or access. In what follows, some of the
above arguments will be marshalled to elucidate the central trends that charac-
terize contemporary urban water management systems. The key points of ten-
sion, conict, rupture, and/or potential crisis will be discussed.
2.3 Critical moments in the contemporary urban
hydrosocial cycle
2.3.1 The shifting political economy of water
Despite the recent debates that have raged over the privatization of urban
water systemsdebates that are often couched in terms of an inevitable and
necessary adaptation of national policies to the requirements of a global
and deregulated neo-liberal world economic ordershifting congurations of
publicprivate partnerships have characterized changes in the urban water
sector since the inception of modern supply systems (Hassan 1998; Castro and
Swyngedouw 2000). The boundaries between public and private spheres have
changed from time to time and relative balances have moved more to one side
or the other, but in common with many other public goods, the water sector has
been customarily characterized by a certain articulation of public and private
Most international studies show that the organization of urban water supply
systems can be broadly divided into four stages (Hassan 1998). The rst of
these was the period up to the second half of the nineteenth century, when most
urban water supply systems consisted mainly of relatively small private com-
panies providing parts of the city (usually the richer parts) with water of vary-
ing quality. Water provision was socially and spatially highly stratied and
water businesses were aimed at generating prots for the investors. In colonial
cities, waterworks tended to concentrate on the areas where the colonial elites,
both domestic and imperial, lived and worked, although a variety of other
local water distribution mechanisms were in place, including wells, fountains,
and commercial door-to-door selling.
This was followed by a period of municipalization, primarily prompted by
concerns over deteriorating environmental conditions and calls for a sanitized
city. In Europe, this took the form of municipal socialism with its concern for
providing essential public goods at a basic, often highly subsidized, rate (Laski,
Jennings, and Robson 1935; Millward 1991). Protability was without any
doubt a secondary concern and subsidies came from the general tax income
(from either the local and/or the national state). This municipalization was also
38 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
supported by local elites who realized that their own health and environmental
conditions were negatively affected by deteriorating environmental standards
in the city. Water supply systems were consolidated, leading to a citywide stan-
dardized coverage of domestic water supply, coupled with attempts to produce
comprehensive sewage-disposal systems (albeit without treatment of sewage
waters). In this period, the large cities in the developing world developed their
water systems at a rate that was comparable with and occasionally even faster
than those for comparably sized cities in the developed world.
The third phase started approximately after the First World War, and turned
the water industry, together with other major utility sectors (such as electricity
and telecommunications), into a growing national concern. The national state
was to take a much greater responsibility in providing public services, although
with a varying degree of intensity of control, regulation, and capital input.
Water infrastructure becametogether with other major infrastructure works
and programmespart of a FordistKeynesian state led social and economic
policy. The investments in grand infrastructure works (dams, canals, techno-
logical networks) were part of an effort to generate and/or support economic
growth, while simultaneously assuring a relative social peace by means of
redistributive policies (Amin 1994; Moulaert and Swyngedouw 1987; Gandy
1997). Three objectives were central to this Fordist period of water expansion:
the creation of jobs; the generation of demand for investment goods from the
private sector; and the provision of basic collective production and consump-
tion goods (like water, education, housing) at a subsidized price for wage
workers and industry alike. The combined result produced the classic model of
state involvement in the post-war Keynesian expansion strategies. These trends
can be identied around the world, although a widening gap began to manifest
itself between Western cities and cities in the rest of the world. In particular, as
will be documented in Chapter 6, waterworks for cities in the developing world
became structurally dependent on global investment ows, notably through
bilateral or multilateral loans. This dependency would ultimately, from the late
1970s onwards, wreak havoc when the debt crisis erupted and state-based
investments were signicantly curtailed (Montfar 1990). During this post-
war Fordist era, the state played an ever-increasing role, nationalizing water
provision in some instances, nancing infrastructure projects, and generally
increasing regulatory intervention, although in some cases management
remained under the auspices of sub-national or municipal authorities. It was
indeed also during this period that a variety of regulatory bodies (for social,
economic, quality, or environmental regulation) were established, usually by
and at the level of the national state.
The fourth and most recent phase is associated with the demise of state-led
economic growth and the subsequent transition to post-Fordist or exible
forms of economic development and governance. This started approximately
with the global recession of the 1970s, and represents a time of radical changes
in public/private interplay in the water sector (Estache, Gomez-Lobo, and
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 39
Leipziger 2001; Bakker 2003). First of all, mounting economic problems
in the context of high public social and investment spendingresulted in
growing budgetary difculties for the national (and often also local) state. This
necessitated a serious consideration of the direction of state spending, and
resulted in a reduction of expenditures in the welfare sector and in supporting
industrial sectors or infrastructure that ran structural decits. Low prices, sub-
sidized investments in water supply systems, and ageing water infrastructure
put greater pressure on state budgets, a situation compounded by a continued
increase in demand for water. Secondly, the call for greater competitiveness as
a means to redress the economic crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s prompted a
quest for efciency gains and greater productivity through cutting bureau-
cracy, deregulating labour markets, and increasing investment exibility
(Bakker 2002). This, in turn, was accompanied by privatization tendencies as a
means to achieve both of the above solutions to the crisis of Fordism. More-
over, the growing globalization of the economy and the accompanying changes
in the nature of competition, the greater availability of private capital achieved
by means of deregulation and de-territorialization of nancial markets, and
the imposition of strict budget norms (by the European Union, World Bank,
or IMF) further shifted the balance in favour of the private sector. Thirdly, the
standard democratic channels of government, which were often infused with
the active lobbying power of social organizations (particularly unions), proved
to be a considerable barrier to implementing swift policy changes. The
political-economic conguration has, consequently, changed in important
ways, resulting in new institutional arrangements (see below) permitting a
more business- or market-oriented management more in tune with prot-
making strategies (Swyngedouw, Page, and Kaka 2002). Fourthly, capital
began to search for new frontiers to incorporate. Nature in all its forms (includ-
ing the production of new genetic materials) became part and parcel of new
accumulation strategies. Water presented itself as a possible new frontier to
cross, a potential source for turning H
O into money and prot. Private accu-
mulation through dispossession, the privatization of what until recently had
been primarily common or collective goods, became a favoured corporate
strategy to seek out new investment niches (Bakker 2002). Finally, growing
environmental problems and, consequently, the increasing number of actual
and potential conicts in the management and regulation of the water cycle
proved to be a serious challenge for traditional forms of organization and
implementation of water-related activities. Particularly in a context of more
vocal and powerful civil society-based environmental groups, systems of gov-
ernance needed to become more sensitive to these issues. Questions of restrict-
ing or controlling demand (demand management) as a strategy for lower water
consumption and hence taking away the pressures on expanding the urban
water resource base became more loudly heard. The internalization of all these
tensions within what remained a fundamentally state-owned and state-
controlled sector became increasingly difcult (Swyngedouw 1998).
40 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
The combined effect of the above processes and dynamics resulted in a shift
from water sectors that were state-managed to ones which were more in tune
with globalized market forces and the imperatives of a competitive privatized
economy (Kazemir, Leinin, and Schaub 2002). This represents both a practical
as well as an ideological and discursive shift, and occurred with varying degrees
of intensity in different countries. In some cases, actual privatization of water
production and delivery took place (e.g. Buenos Aires, Jakarta, or the failed
attempts in Cochabamba (see Crespo 2002a)), whereas in other cases (e.g.
Amsterdam) publicly owned companies were increasingly required to act
strategically, managerially, operationally, and organizationally as private
companies with an eye towards potential future privatization. In addition,
water businesses are now often part of global multi-location companies, or
part of larger multi-utility companies such as Vivendi, RWE, or the late
The debate over privatization, and the privatization process itself, have had
and will continue to have profound implications in and for the water sector and
beyond. The recent shift towards turning H
O into a commodity has dramati-
cally changed the social and political meaning and cultural valuation of water.
First of all, water is turned into prots and capital accumulation by private or
public/private institutions. Supplying water therefore becomes a means to
achieve an economic end: economic growth and prot maximization. To the
extent that private companies do this, water-related activities become solely a
strategic element within companies that are rapidly becoming multi-utility and
international. Second, non-economic uses and functions of water then have to
be regulated by governmental institutions that often face serious opposition,
conict or other constraints in the face of powerful private agencies. Moreover,
it becomes increasingly difcult, if not impossible, to integrate water policies
within a wider urban, social, or economic policy involving cross-subsidization,
alternative uses of water, or a socially stratied policy. Third, this shift
inevitably entails a change in the geometry of social power. Private actors and
companies become much more powerful voices in strategic water-related deci-
sions, at the expense of other civil society organizations or of the state. Fourth,
while the water cycle operates along temporal rhythms that are part of the
larger environmental system, it is nevertheless increasingly forced to operate
under the standard discounting periods of corporate strategists and of eco-
nomic cycles. Fifth, the privatized nature of crucial parts of the water cycle
diminishes the transparency of decision-making procedures and limits access
to data and information that could permit other social groups to acquire the
relevant information on which to base views, decisions, and options. Finally,
water production and distribution becomes incorporated into an increasingly
global economy in which investment ows, nancial capital markets, and
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 41
However, we cannot dismiss the existence of powerful forces that oppose the privatizing agenda or
the internal contradictions of the privatizing model, which has often ended in failure in many cases
around the world (Savedoff and Spiller 1999; Hardoy and Schusterman 1999; Bond 1997).
investment decisions shape the contours within which the urban water
economy operates. In sum, the shift from public good to private commodity
alters the choreography of power through which the urban socio-hydrological
cycle is organized (Kallis and Coccossis 2001).
2.3.2 The demand-supply-investment trialectic
in a competitive context
Within a context of commodication and demands for privatization, the tradi-
tional state-led way of managing the triad of demand-supply-investment deci-
sions is fundamentally transformed. If the prot motive, either for public or
private companies, becomes the yardstick against which performance is mea-
sured and the price signal a key instrument in regulating the demand/supply
nexus, the contradictions between these moments in the economic process take
a rather different turn. Investment is continually required to extend, replace,
and update water supply networks. However, expanding demand in order to
raise the necessary nance is seriously discouraged for environmental reasons,
thus requiring more and more complicated equations on the balance sheets of
water supply companies. With a given demand structure and the necessity of
further investment, protability (and hence the sustainability of market-led
water companies) can only be maintained either via productivity increases
(which are generally capital and technology intensive and almost invariably
lead to a rising organic composition of capital) and/or price increases. When
network expansion is required as in the case of most cities in the developing
world, and usually in the poorer areas of the city, the substantial investment
required hits the limited and often problematic cost recovery potential from
investments in low-income areas. While price rises are possible (and likely), it
remains politically sensitive and might lead to socially perverse effects. For
example, immediately after privatization in the UK, the water price increased
signicantly. Many non-paying households were cut off (a practice later
banned by the government), while companies and their shareholders gained
considerable prots. In the second round of price-setting in 1999 (and after the
government introduced a windfall tax on what were considered to be the
excessive prots of the privatized utilities), price increases were more modest,
immediately resulting in a major reduction of the labour force in the water
industry and calls for a partial re-collectivization of the water infrastructure.
In a context of increasing demand and expansion of either total or per capita
demand, the volume of prots can be maintained by means of an expansion of
supply. In this context, it is interesting to note that the productivist logic of
water supply companies continues unabated. Furthermore, given the long-
term and capital-intensive nature of investments in water infrastructure, there
is a rather weak incentive to engage in major long-term and capital-intensive
investment programmes. Put simply, there is a clear disincentive to invest in
activities which are not directly protable, such as leakage control and the
42 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
expansion of the network, in contrast to productivity enhancing investments.
Finally, in the context of geographically limited supply and demand in which
most companies operate, while simultaneously being exposed to a rapidly
internationalizing competitive environment, there is a tendency for privatized
water companies to internationalize activities, either by taking over privatized
water businesses elsewhere or by means of mergers, acquisitions, and/or
diversication into other sectors (see Hall 1999).
In addition, the traditional state-led way of managing the triad of
demand-supply-investment decisions becomes fundamentally transformed
(see also below). If the prot motive, either for public or private companies,
becomes the yardstick against which performance is measured and the price
signal a key instrument in regulating the demand/supply nexus, the contradic-
tions between these moments in the economic process take a rather different
turn. In addition, new forms of governmental regulation parallel these shifts in
the economic organization of water supply. This is the theme we shall turn to
2.3.3 A new regulatory order?
De-, re-, or non-regulation
The tendency towards commodication and privatization changes the regula-
tory context in important ways. While moves towards commodication and
privatization are legitimated on the basis of considerations of increased com-
petitiveness, higher productivity, lower prices, and drastic cutbacks of regula-
tory red tape, there has been a tendency to equate these shifts in the economic
forms of organization with deregulation. However, evidence from the water
sector suggests exactly the opposite. Particularly in the case of the UK, for
example, the establishment of new semi-public institutions accompanied the
privatization of the water utilities in 1989, most notably the economic regula-
tory body OFWAT (Ofce of the Water Regulator). Although the main
function of OFWAT is the protection of the consumer by means of regulating
price-setting and investment, this process proved to be full of tensions and con-
ict, not least as a result of a great and increasing diversity between water com-
panies, uncertainties about available data, and the intricacies of the regulatory
game. As Bakker (1999; 2001) has pointed out, the regulatory game that started
with the privatization (and ostensibly deregulation) of the water industry
unleashed a certain regulatory creep, which has developed into a top-heavy
institutional regulatory body. Given the territorial monopoly character of the
privatized water companies, all sorts of regulatory procedures, such as invest-
ment target-setting, pricing, environmental standards, abstraction and leakage
standards, quality assurance, and the like, have been implemented. Rather than
deregulating the water sector, privatization has resulted in a profound re-
regulation of the water market and in a considerable quasi-governmental
regulatory structure (Castro, Swyngedouw, and Kaka 2003). In the process,
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 43
the set of social actors involved in the institutional and regulatory framework
of the water sector has been signicantly altered, with a new geometry of social
power evolving as a consequence. This new choreography of institutional and
regulatory organization is what we shall turn to next.
The re-scaling of the governance of water: from water government to
water governance
The host of new institutional or regulatory bodies that have been set up have
considerable decision-making powers, but operate in a shady political arena
with little accountability and only limited forms of democratic control (Guy,
Graham, and Marvin 1996). These institutional changes have been invariably
described as part of wider shift from government to governance (Swyngedouw,
Page, and Kaka 2002). Whereas in the past, water management and water
policy were directly or indirectly under the control of a particular governmen-
tal scale, i.e. either at the national state and/or the local (municipal) level, in
recent years there has been a massive proliferation of new water-related institu-
tions, bodies, and actors that are involved in policy-making and strategic
planning at a variety of geographical scales. The successive generations of
water-related directives and regulations at the EU level, for example, or the tor-
tuous process of implementing an integrated EU policyin the form of the
European Water Framework Directivehave resulted in growing powers of
the Commission over water-related issues (Kaka 2003b). In additionas the
UK case showsprivatization required setting up a series of new regulatory
bodies (OFWAT in particular) and a redenition of the powers and preroga-
tives of existing regulatory organizations such as the National Rivers Author-
ity, which became integrated into the newly created Environment Agency. For
cities in the developing world, international scrutiny and conditions, often
imposed by global institutions like the World Bank or IMF, have signicantly
altered the choreography of power between national and international scales
of governance. In addition, the negotiation, implementation, and follow-up of
such arrangements are paralleled by a growing number of commissions, com-
mittees, and institutions, often of a publicprivate character, that supplant the
traditional public authorities (Swyngedouw, Page, and Kaka 2002; Castro,
Swyngedouw and Kaka 2003).
Finally, privatization itself of course results in much greater power and
autonomy for the companies themselves, particularly in terms of strategic and
other decision-making. Privatization de facto means taking away some control
from the public sector and transferring it to the private sector. This not only
changes decision-making procedures and strategic developments, but also
affects less tangible elements such as access to information and data.
The combined outcome of the above has been a more or less signicant
reconguration of the scales of water governance. As Bob Jessop (1994) has
44 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
pointed out for other domains of public life, the national scale has been rede-
ned (and partially hollowed out) in terms of its political power, while supra-
national and sub-national institutions and forms of governance have become
more important. Privatization, in turn, has led to the externalization of a series
of command and control functions. The result is a new gestalt of governance,
characterized by a multi-scaled articulation of institutions and actors with
varying degrees of power and authority, and in which traditional channels of
democratic accountability are cut, curtailed, or redened. This proliferation
of governing bodies at a variety of geographical scales has diminished the
transparency of the decision-making process and renders it more difcult to
disentangle and articulate the power geometries that shape decision-making
outcomes. In practice, it can be argued that the transition from government to
governance has implieddespite the multiplication of actors and institutions
involved in water managementthe transfer of key economic and political
powers to the private component of the governance complex. This has not,
however, happened in a social vacuum, but rather has fuelled a constellation of
social and political conicts, not least because of the consequences of an
increasingly private-oriented governance model for the sustainability of
socio-environmental systems.
The proliferation of regulatory bodies and systems of governance associated
with the hydrosocial cycle at local, national, or international scales, has con-
tributed to the emergence of a thick regulatory structure, with ambiguously
dened responsibilities and an imprecisely dened accountability. Different
sets of actors are involved in the decision-making procedures depending on the
geographical scale of organization or on the particular institutional embed-
ding of the water companies. The choreography of such stakeholder partici-
pation is uneven and unequal and, in many instances, operates outside
traditional political democratic channels. While some actors are well repre-
sented in some settings, they are excluded from others; still others remain
totally absent from the arenas of power where fundamental decisions are
2.3.4 Proliferating socio-spatial and socio-environmental water conicts
The expanding scale of urban water operations as a result of either increasing
per capita demand and/or a still growing urban population results in the need
to continually expand the urban water footprint. In spite of attempts to
manage demand, total production capacity continues to increase, resulting in
either an effective growth of water extraction and/or growing pressures to
expand water production capabilities. At the same time, alternative uses of the
available water (ecological, recreational, industrial, or other) are encouraged,
often in a context of extremely limited quantity or unreliable quality of avail-
able resources. Although pressures differ from country to country and from
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 45
city to city, they are real and have led to more or less serious conicts or
threaten to do so in the near future. Perhaps the most notorious example of this
is Tel Aviv. The existing national supply system from which the city draws its
water is stretched to capacity in years of limited rainfall, and saline intrusion
means that some aquifer sources can no longer be used. The now defunct peace
process with the Palestinians has resulted in a promise to divert more water to
Gaza where more than a million people live on currently a very limited supply
of circa 25 litres per person per day. The negotiations with Syria on the future
of the Golan Heights (parts of which are in the drainage basin of Lake Galilee,
the countrys most important water source), may also affect the total water
balance of Israel. Negotiations are currently under way to buy and import
water from Turkey, which has surplus water, partly as a result of the construc-
tion of the Anatolia water project, which captures headwaters from the rivers
watering the Kurdish region and other Middle Eastern countries. If this goes
ahead, a regional socio-spatial condition, which is already precariously bal-
anced, will extend its geopolitical reach and intensify a complex and conict-
ridden situation.
In addition to these socio-environmental and spatial conicts, the drive
towards privatization has reopened the debate over the status of water. While
general access to water at a very low or moderate price for the whole population
was the received wisdom during the Statist period, current practices aimed at
running water services according to the market logic have reignited discussion
about water accessibility. This is particularly acute in the developing world
where growing numbers of urban dwellers are dependent on highly unreliable,
unsafe, and costly systems of water haulage or delivery. The privatization of
water businesses renders the prospect of expanding water services in large cities
dependent on conditions of protability. Needless to say, strategies of cherry-
picking have been identied as private businesses seek out the most lucrative
opportunities (Guy, Graham, and Marvin 1996; 1997).
The twin tensions of increasing the demand for urban water and the
mounting pressure to allocate water to other functions have proliferated
socio-spatial tensions and conicts over water abstraction, water allocation,
and water use (Crespo 2002b). These conicts can take a variety of forms,
including growing social differentiation within the city in terms of water con-
sumption (see Chapter 3), conicts over urban versus agricultural, industrial,
or ecological use, and conicts between resource extraction areas and urban
consumption areas (reected in conicts over new reservoirs or dam con-
structions). In addition, the globalization of water companies signals a strat-
egy in which local waters, turned into capital, are geographically reallocated to
other places and cities. For example, Londons water company, itself part of a
global German conglomerate (RWE), has taken over part of Jakartas water
supply system. Invariably, the outcome of these struggles and conicts is
expressive of the uneven power relations that infuse the organization of the
46 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
2.3.5 The discourse of crisis: the contested politics of
demand management
The discursive production of scarcity
The risk of dwindling water resources, coupled with rising or unfullled
demand, has intensied the political and social debate about the scarcity of
water (Nevarez 1996). As Kakas work has pointed out, this discursive build-
up of a particular water narrative and ideology, which is particularly noticeable
during conditions such as drought-related urban water crisis, serves specic
political and economic objectives and policies (Kaka 1999; 2003a). A climate
of actual, pending, or imagined water crisis serves not only to instigate further
investment in the expansion of the water-supply side (as in the case of Athens),
but also fuels and underpins drives towards commodication. As the price
signal is hailed as a prime mechanism to manage scarcity, the discursive
construction of water as a scarce good becomes an important part of a
strategy of commodication, if not privatization (see Chapter 6). In this con-
text, strange and often unholy political alliances are forged between free mar-
keteers and parts of the environmental movement. The growing effectiveness
of this movement in spreading the message of increasing (although socially
constructed) water scarcity to the wider public can lead to greater willingness-
to-pay, with a consequent acceptance of the market as the preferred (or indeed
only) mechanism to allocate water resources. In addition, the discursive repre-
sentation of water as being an integral part of nature permits casting nature
into pole position to explain scarcity. In other words, nature is the principal
cause of water scarcity rather than the particular political economic congu-
rations through which water becomes urbanized in highly selective and socially
uneven ways, resulting in a serious scarcity for the poor and powerless and
abundant waters for the socio-economic and political elites.
The politics of the technological x
The management of the urban hydrosocial cycle, particularly the management
of demand, operates largely via a combination of campaigns aimed at raising
public awareness about water savings on the one hand, and attempts at reduc-
ing water consumption by means of a variety of technological xes on the
other. Generally the cost effectiveness of water-saving devices depends both on
the price of the technology and the price of water. In a context of low water
prices, water-saving devices are often not cost-effective. Although the aggre-
gate effect on water savings is still disputed (most studies indicate a slowdown
in the growth of water demand, but not a reversal of upward trends), the
technological x for water-related problems requires signicant investment.
Privatized water companies remain reluctant to invest in such technologies
(given the cost implication), while public subsidization might be seen as a sub-
vention to the private sector (in the case of a privatized water sector) or run
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 47
against the dominant ideology of full cost recovery (in the case of public com-
panies). Despite the availability of a wide range of water-saving devices and
technologies, uptake remains limited and is not likely to have a major impact in
the near future. More importantly, the displacement effects are almost invari-
ably completely ignored and not part of the environmental audit, yet it is abun-
dantly clear that environment-friendly technologies applied in one sector
might have adverse effects in terms of the environmental effects of their own
production process. A total environmental audit would be required in order to
assess the net environmental benet derived from a technological x.
In addition, the master engineering narratives prioritize large-scale and cen-
trally organized water supply systems at the expense of more decentralized and
localized production and delivery systems, although the latter are generally the
ones that serve the poorer residents of Third World cities. Given the marginal
ofcial interest in optimizing such systems, they remain either poorly organ-
ized and/or controlled by informal actors operating in a grey zone and pro-
viding services at highly inated prices (see Chapter 7).
2.3.6 Globalizing H
O and uneven development
The commodication and privatization of H
O is increasingly embedded in
processes of economic globalization. Whether publicly or privately owned,
water businesses are expanding their operations geographically and becoming
increasingly embedded in an international competitive process (Kazemir,
Leinin, and Schaub 2002). In the case of privatized companies, furthermore,
their capital structure is also becoming increasingly internationalized. For
example, after the UK government opened the water sector to market compe-
tition in December 1994, a frenzy of merger and takeover activity started to
take place. Many UK water companies are actively acquiring water operations
elsewhere in the world, while British companies have been subject to takeovers
from foreign competitors. For instance, Thames Water (Londons water supply
company) was acquired in September 2000 by the German multi-utility RWE.
At a global scale, an accelerated process of concentration and consolidation is
taking place that is rapidly leading to a fairly oligopolistic economic structure
of water utility companies on a world scale. Regardless of the difculties of
regulating global companies (particularly with respect to environmental and
social standards, investments, maintenance, and infrastructure upkeep), it
raises the spectre of increasing geographical strategies around investments and
about the spread of activities, the ow of water capital, and the portfolio of
holdings. In addition, it opens up the possibility of strategic withdrawal of
water companies from particular places and sites, permits strategic cherry-
picking, and even the potential for bankruptcy or liquidation of activities. For
a sensitive and vital sector like urban water supply, each of the above might
potentially threaten urban sustainability conditions. In addition, it might lead
to a situation in which the necessary provision of water for more problematic
48 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
(i.e. costly) areas of the city has to be undertaken by the public sector, while the
private sector picks places that optimize corporate protability.
To the extent that water companies operate increasingly as private economic
actors, they are also increasingly subject to standard market risks. While pro-
viding a fundamental and essential service, the economic survival of water
operations is not necessarily guaranteed. Takeovers, disinvestments, geogra-
phical reallocation, bankruptcies, inefcient operations, and the like are of
course endemic to a private market economy. In fact, this is exactly what mar-
ket dynamics are supposed to do: weed out underperforming companies and
reallocate economic resources from less to more protable activities. This raises
particular questions with respect to the long-term sustainability of market-
based urban water supply systems. In the absence of strong incentives to
enhance productivity or efciency, and given the high cost and long time hori-
zon of xed capital investments in water infrastructure, private companies may
fail to keep water systems running efciently. This would, in the medium term,
lead to a situation in which the State (at whatever level) has to once again
become involved in the water sector in more direct ways. There is a tendency to
leave the network/infrastructure part of urban water networks to the public
sector, while private companies secure protable management and operational
activities. This entails an indirect subsidy of the private sector by the state and,
in market terms, distorts the operation of the market. In a context in which the
risk of water supply failure is too dramatic to contemplate, the state will have
to remain (or become again) a key player in organizing water supply systems.
This will become even more pronounced as environmental and sanitary stan-
dards in urban areas continue to decline.
2.4 Conclusion: the urban water conundrum
One of the most striking features of urban life is the ubiquitous necessity for
(metabolized) water of a certain quality and quantity to sustain urban life and
its fabric. Moreover, this water circulates through an intricate centrally con-
trolled system to every single location in the city. At the same time, cities are
confronted with huge volumes of sewage water, which is not only a problem in
terms of its physical characteristics but also presents a serious health threat.
This waste has to be removed again from every urban location by means of a
similarly centralized and extensive sewage network. Every form of urban life
depends on water but is simultaneously threatened by it. Therefore, it should
not be a surprise that in the practices of everyday city life, water is a crucial
material and symbolic good, which is embedded in and engenders urban social
conicts and struggles over its use and control. The realm of urban water,
particularly under conditions of exclusion and problematic access, is indeed
highly contested terrain.
Circulating Water, Circulating Power 49
In short, the urbanization of water and the social, economic, and cultural
processes associated with its domestication have brought access to and control
of natures water squarely into the realm of class, gender, and cultural differen-
tiation and struggle. The commodication of water, in turn, has incorporated
the circulation of water directly into the sphere of money circulation. This
makes access to water dependent on positions of social power, both economi-
cally as well as in terms of gender and culture. Intricate power choreographies
have characterized the organization and management of urban water systems
over the twentieth century. At the beginning of the new century, we are again
embarking on a major transformation of the political and economic landscape
of water production and delivery, one that is replete with all manner of ten-
sions and conicts. Before we embark on excavating Guayaquils urbanization
process through the lens of the political ecology of its own hydrosocial circula-
tion process, we turn rst to considering the water condition in the Latin
American city in general, and in the Andean region in particular.
50 Circulating Water, Circulating Power
Water, Power, and the Andean City:
Situating Guayaquil
. . . life for the poor in many Latin American cities [is] a risky proposition.
They breathe polluted air, drink contaminated water, eat unsafe food, and
live among the garbage. They are subjected to earthquakes, mudslides and
oods from an early age and have limited access to health and education,
no money and no work.
Anton 1993: 1401
3.1 Water exclusion and the Latin American city
There is no aggregate shortage of water in Latin America. The Amazons out-
put into the Atlantic Ocean is about 150,000 cubic metres per second and
a whole host of smaller riversthe Magdalena, Orinoco, San Francisco,
Uruguay, and Usumacinta rivers, to name but a fewall carry more than
1,000m/sec of water into the ocean at their outlets. In contrast, Buenos Aires,
Mexico City, and So Paulo, the three largest cities in Latin America, consume
around 50 to 80m/second, clearly a very small amount when compared to
total available regional water resources (Anton 1993: 163). However, Mexico
City is situated in an extremely water-scarce area, and other cities such as So
Paulo, Brasilia, Guatemala City, Quito, and Bogota are located far from plen-
tiful sources of water. Elsewhere, though, large cities and abundant water
sources are in close proximity, yet large parts of their population still suffer
from a lack of clean, cheap, and convenient water, a situation of scarcity in
the midst of abundance. This chapter will examine the problems faced by the
urban poor in Latin America in accessing potable water, and will examine the
problems associated with its delivery.
3.1.1 The size and nature of the problem
Although it contains some very arid areas such as the Atacama Desert, Latin
America is a humid region. Until recently, water was regarded as an abundant
resource, and justiably so: Latin Americas annual precipitation is 60% above
the world average and the average annual run-off of 370,000m is 30% of the
world total (Biswas 1979: 16). A glance at water consumption levels in Latin
American cities indicates no aggregate shortage of water. Table 3.1 suggests
that average daily water consumption in Latin Americas big cities is compar-
able with that of cities in the developed world, and signicantly higher than is
the case in African and some Asian cities.
Given that the very minimum amount of water deemed necessary to sustain
life has been estimated at 5 litres per capita per day (LCD) (World Bank 1976),
and that under most circumstances 30/40 LCD is deemed sufcient for a rea-
sonable level of personal and community health (Kirke and Arthur 1987: 125),
even the city with the lowest consumption level would appear to have a plenti-
ful supply of water. This impression is further reinforced when one considers
52 Situating Guayaquil
Table 3.1. Average municipal water consumption
in Latin American cities
City Water consumption (litres per capita
per day)
Source: Anton Source: World Bank
Buenos Aires 630
Havana 500 100
Maracaibo 475
Crdoba 435
Guayaquil 429 261
San Jos 423
Monterrey 404
Mexico City 360527
Lima-Callao 359 211
Curitiba 345
Medelln 340
Guadalajara 314
Bogot 304
Santiago 300555 286
Caracas 300388
Montevideo 289
Quito 286301
So Paulo 270293
Salvador 266 186
Belo Horizonte 261
Cali 237
La Paz 177 73
Rio de Janeiro 188684 299
Asuncin 160350 236
Barranquilla 148
Cochabamba 130
Sources: Anton (1993: 156); World Bank (1998: 2789);
(2002a: 122).
that it has been calculated (Kalbermatten 1980) that neither personal hygiene
nor public health requires water for domestic consumption to exceed 100 LCD.
With this quantity of water, the full health benets of a reliable water supply
can be enjoyed and a water-borne sewerage system can be operated. Further-
more, domestic consumption beyond 100 LCD is thought to have little addi-
tional benet to human health or environmental well-being. The inevitable
conclusion is that, in all the above-mentioned Latin American cities, there is
more than enough water to provide every member of the population with sat-
isfactory water and sewerage systems.
Whereas in 1980 just over 200 million urban dwellers worldwide were
deprived of water supply services, by the year 2000 this number had more
than doubled to 450 million. For urban sanitation services the gures are
respectively 295 million and 720 million (United Nations Centre for Human
Settlements, various years). About a billion people suffer from chronic
water shortages. The consequences of deciencies in safe water supply for
health and the environment are far more critical in densely populated urban
areas than in rural conditions where there is often some reliable source of water
available and waste is diluted more easily.
The physical expansion of Latin American cities during the past few decades
required a parallel expansion of urban services. However, the sharpening of
social and economic inequalities, combined with the institutional contradic-
tions of water utilities (see Chapter 6), resulted in a spatial segregation process
related to the resurgence of slums and marginal settlements in suburban areas
of the city. Poor residents became systematically excluded from many of the
basic services, including access to piped potable water. In the Metropolitan
Area of Buenos Aires (El Gran Buenos Aires), for example, the proportion of
people without water services rose from 6% in 1947 (out of 4.7 million inhabi-
tants) to 24% in 1960 (6.7 million) and to 36% in 1987 (c.10 million) (Brustein
1991: 96; 1990: 190). As Table 3.2 suggests, up to 70% of the urban population
in Latin America does not have proper sewage systems available, while up to a
half (and sometimes more) lack relatively easy access to potable water (in the
house, yard, or neighbourhood). Between 1980 and 1986, the urban popula-
tion in Latin America grew from 224.1 to 275.1 million (from 65% to 69% of
the total population), while the number of city dwellers deprived of easy access
to potable water rose from 37.8 to 45.6 million (Saenz 1988: 23). Table 3.3
summarizes urban water access for selected cities in Latin America.
The exclusion of large segments of the urban poor from direct access to
water expresses and unleashes a social, political, and economic struggle within
the urban arena for control over and access to water. In general, there is no
alternative source of potable water, so this has to be brought to settlements by
means other than pipes. In many cases, private water vendors, who hold a de
facto monopolistic control over this precious commodity, truck water in. In
other cases, standpipes, wells, and/or long haulage journeys (customarily by
women and children) provide some sort of access. The exclusionary practices
Situating Guayaquil 53
around urban water can be illustrated by the role of urban water vendors and
the economic power they command by virtue of their power over a vital com-
modity. Monopoly rents (see Harvey 1974) can be extracted and appropriated
through the mobilization of a geographically located resource, which needs to
be spatially relocated. Their command over the spatial circulation of water
54 Situating Guayaquil
Table 3.2. Urban populations with access to water supply and sewerage in
Andean and selected Latin American countries (percentages)
Country Sewerage connections Potable water
Bolivia 23 73 86 42 91 na 93
Colombia 61 96 96 92 95 88 98
Ecuador 36 na 70 58 na 82 81
Peru 55 77 79 52 84 na 87
Venezuela 60 na 71 90 na na 88
Mexico 64.5
na na 81.5
92 91 94
Argentina 79
na 85 70
na 71 85
Paraguay 88
96 94 82
85 70 95
Coplain (1988: 9);
World Bank (1987);
UNEP (2002) and UNCHS (2001);
(1991: 51);
World Bank (2000).
Table 3.3. Percentage of houses with indoor piped water and sewerage
connections, selected Latin American cities
City Source Year of Percentage Percentage
data water sewerage
Cochabamba, Bolivia a 1997 80.7
b 1993 33 20
d 2000 57
Barranquilia, Colombia a 1993 93.4
Santo Domingo, Dominican a 1993 86.8
Managua, Nicaragua a 1998 58.4
Panama, Panama a 1990 81.7
Guatemala City, Guatemala b 1993 52
Recife, Brazil b 1993 79 38
San Salvador, El Salvador b 1993 86 80
La Paz, Bolivia b 1993 55 58
Lima, Peru b 1993 70 69
Asuncion, Paraguay b 1993 58 10
Guayaquil, Ecuador c 1990 64.0 55.2
b 1993 80 55
Sources: (a) UNCHS (2001: 323); (b) World Bank (1998: 2789); (c) INEC, Census 1990; (d) Crespo
permits not only rapid money accumulation, but also gives the water specula-
tors a powerful position in the political economy of the city as urban life would
be seriously, if not terminally, disturbed if water distribution were to come to a
halt (see Chapter 7).
The problem, therefore, is not one of absolute scarcity but one of unfair dis-
tribution. Indeed, the failings of the water supply system to bring water to
urban residents and their consequent dependence on alternative supply sys-
tems raises the question of the socio-spatial distribution of urban water or, in
other words, of who gets what share of the available water. Even for those who
are connected to the urban network, there is signicant difference in both the
quantity and the quality of water that can be accessed. Water pressure in the
network is spatially often very uneven and becomes lower with increased dis-
tance from the central reservoirs. This leads to a condition of very irregular
water supply, usually limited to just a few hours daily. Moreover, communities
with low supply are usually found in poorer suburban settlements (Brustein
1988b). As the pipes are empty and air-lled during long periods of time, the
danger for both bacteriological and physical (for example, corrosion) contam-
ination increases and, consequently, the water quality is signicantly lower and
often becomes unsafe to drink.
In addition, there is a clear socio-spatial segregation in terms of use of water.
Rosenfeld (1991: 187) maintains that in the case of Santiago de Chile (which
nevertheless has a respectable 97.5% coverage), low-income residents consume
on average 100 litres of water per day per capita, while high-income neigh-
bourhoods show a daily per capita consumption of up to 800 litres. Table 3.4
shows the inequality in water distribution for a number of cities for which those
Situating Guayaquil 55
Table 3.4. Relationships between proportion of water consumed and
percentage of households, and total water production per capita in selected
Latin American cities
City Percentage of Percentage of water Water produced (litres
population received per capita per day)
Mexico City
3 60 386.2
50 3
40 3 220.0
43 88 368
32 10.1
25 1.9
30 5
19 38 226
19.4 9.1
27 50
Illich (1986: 1);
Field work;
Espinoza (1988: 4);
Bernal (1991: 1534);
Calculated on the
basis of Icaza and Rodriguez (1988: 62);
Crespo (2002a: 121).
data are available, clearly indicating that a tiny minority of urban residents
consume the bulk of available potable water, while many have to make do with
just a fraction of this.
In Guayaquil, 60% of the population consumes 97% of the produced
potable water, whereas the other 40% has to make do with 3% of the available
supply (Swyngedouw 1994). For those dependent on tanqueros, average daily
consumption can accurately be estimated at 20 LCD. In Mexico City, 3% of the
population receives 60% of the water, whilst 50% receives just 3% (Illich 1986:
1); in Lima, 43% consume 88% of the water (Espinoza and Oliden 1988: 4);
while in Barranquilla 30% have to survive on 5% of the water (Bernal 1991:
1534). Even in Santiago, one of the few Latin American cities which services
over 95% of the residents with piped potable water, there is still a signicant
disparity: the top 19% of the population receives 38% of the water (Icaza
and Rodriguez 1988: 62).
On a world scale, it is estimated (Christmas and De Roy 1991) that 12 bil-
lion people do not have access to a safe and reliable water supply. In short,
water provision has increased living standards for those who have beneted,
but around 20% of the human population has suffered from the exclusionary
implications of water supply management approaches and still has no satisfac-
tory access.
3.1.2 The consequences of insufcient water supplies for Latin
Americas urban poor
A decient water supply can affect human health in a number of ways, causing
diseases that are water-borne, water-washed, water-based, or water-related.
Water-borne diseases are infectious diseases spread through water supply sys-
tems, water-washed diseases are caused by a lack of personal hygiene, aquatic
invertebrate animals transmit water-based diseases, and insects dependent on
water spread water-related diseases. The 1990s have seen cholera epidemics
beginning in Peru, where 200,000 cases were reported (Anton 1993: 162)and
spreading to neighbouring Andean countries, including Ecuador. Cholera is
now rife in Amazonia, and has spread north to Mexico and south to Argentina.
Yet the few cities with adequate water supply and sewerage systems serving vir-
tually 100% of their population, such as Montevideo, have been little affected.
Clearly, a well-functioning and comprehensive water supply and sewerage
system is essential if a city is to resist the onset of not only cholera but also
amoebiasis, diarrhoea, typhus, and hepatitis.
Quite apart from the obvious threat to human health posed by the lack of
piped, potable water in many poorer neighbourhoods in Latin American cities,
the networks of water pipes are often themselves the source of contamination.
When, due to overconsumption in central districts, repairs, breakdowns, or
insufcient input, pressure drops in sections of the pipes, supply to consumers
is interrupted. It is an indication of the way in which socio-political interest
56 Situating Guayaquil
groups have forged the delivery of natural resources to the human population
that when this occurs, it is almost always the more peripheral, poorer neigh-
bourhoods that receive the limited supply. Networks are often of a herringbone
structure radiating from the city centre or reservoirs, so that while city centre
fountains present an image of plenty, even the few urban poor who are con-
nected to the system receive water for only a few hours each day. While this
compounds the perilous position of the urban poor in relation to health, the
danger of exposure to disease is further enhanced when pressure in the pipes
becomes very low or even negative. Air lls the pipes, and contaminated water
from the soil surrounding the pipes can often be drawn in, introducing another
source of contamination. In So Paulo, this is a particular problem, as water is
provided on a by-turns system, where each part of the city receives water for a
certain number of hours, and then has no water for another xed length of
time. With the pipelines routinely drying up several times a week, the scope for
contamination is alarming (Jacobi 1995: 13).
However, protection from ill health is far from the only advantage afforded
by access to potable water. Where the piped water network does not service
neighbourhoods, the process of obtaining water can consume large amounts of
time and energy. Heavy containers may have to be carried from trucks, wells, or
streams; people may have to queue for water; and precious fuel may be used for
boiling the water. In short, water can become ones master rather than ones
slave. Children can be forced to miss school and women may be unable to enter
employment because of the need to stay at home to await irregular deliveries.
The provision of reliable, safe and convenient sources of potable water will not only
reduce mortality and morbidity but will also release those now engaged in collecting
water for more useful tasks. (Kirke and Arthur 1987: 123)
When considering the ways in which decient water supplies impact upon the
urban poor, it is important to note that the effects are far from gender-neutral.
Instead the feminization of poverty (Jordan and Wagner 1993) has become an
acute reality. Women in Latin America are rarely consulted about their water
supply needs by overwhelmingly male-dominated water supply institutions,
despite the fact that projects, which have fully involved women, have been
shown to bring signicant health and lifestyle benets and have been better
Women are disproportionately affected by water supply deciencies as they
are invariably the primary procurers and users of water and are also given the
sole responsibility for waste management (hence putting them at a higher risk
of exposure to disease). They are also increasingly accounting for a signicant
proportion of family wage income, so that time lost waiting or queuing for
water inhibits their ability to provide for their families. Yet community
decision-making and planning processes operate exclusionary practices
towards women. If women were involved, Jordan and Wagner (1993) argue,
Situating Guayaquil 57
then projects would be more successful as women have a vested interest in their
success. Moreover participation might also heighten womens self-awareness,
respect, and recognition as valued members of the community. Thus far, it
appears that while poor provision of water has adversely affected womens
lives, womens association with water procurement has adversely affected water
provision. Male-dominated institutions have given priority to solving male-
dominated problems, of which water supply is not seen to be one. Yet this is
clearly a myopic approach: although women may be the procurers and dis-
posers of water, water quantity and quality are fundamental to the physical
and economic well-being of the entire community. Where proper water and
sanitation are provided, economic activity can increase as a result of the extra
time available to women, which can only benet society at large. For example,
when piped water was introduced to Panama City, the production of goods by
women doubled almost overnight (UNCHS 1985).
3.1.3 Managing the supply of water in Latin American cities
Demands for water in Latin American cities have mushroomed since the 1950s
(Postel 1992) as a result of the spatial expansion of such cities, rapidly rising
populations, and the development of industry. Globally, industry is now
responsible for around 25% of all water use, and although industries can dra-
matically reduce consumption by recycling and reusing water, such practices
have yet to be adopted in Latin America (Shiklomanov 1990). Demand has
also been further boosted by the abundance and low cost of supplies for the
most central and wealthiest neighbourhoods of cities, where horticultural and
ornamental water use is common. Very often, citywide levels of demand
cannot be met by supply, not because of any aggregate water shortage, but
because of the massive overconsumption by the commercial sector and by the
wealthiest residential areas. In order to deliver better water to more people, a
change of approach is needed. The capital-intensive gargantuan projects
aimed at creating ever greater supply to match ever increasing demand should
be de-prioritized, and instead of raping ever greater swathes of nature in this
way, we should look within cities to nd more water. Quite simply, we should
learn to do more with less (Postel 1992).
Postel calculates that Latin American cities could cut their water use by
around 33% without sacricing economic output or quality of life. Moreover,
investments in water efciency, recycling and reuse schemes have been found to
yield more water per dollar than conventional projects. Despite this, institu-
tions and policies in Latin American cities hinder such developments at pre-
sent. Some ofcials and all water vendors have an interest in maintaining the
status quo. Moreover, the need to nd practical solutions to the water problem
is often deemed less important than the need to be seen to be doing something,
resulting in a bias towards grand projects. A mayor is more likely to be remem-
bered and re-elected for building a new pumping station or aqueduct than for
58 Situating Guayaquil
supplying low-volume lavatory tanks. In summary, the problems of supplying
water to Latin American cities which have developed since the 1950s have had
very little to do with absolute scarcity, and have instead been caused by a lack
of properly trained professionals, by political inuence on technical decisions,
by excessive bureaucracy in management and supply institutions, and by cor-
ruption in administrative and political systems (Biswas and Kindler 1989).
Although the paucity of water provision in poorer neighbourhoods is in-
extricably linked to the socio-political manipulation of nature in the city, it
should be conceded that many Latin American city slums are located in mar-
ginal areas, where water supply systems have to overcome severe engineering
problems. Shanty settlements on steep slopes above cities are often above the
level of storage reservoirs, thus requiring expensive pumping of water to pro-
vide piped water. Many other slums are located on ood plains where the
installation of water mains and drainage is again difcult and costly. Yet, these
invasion settlements often take place on marginal low-rent yielding lands and,
in the case of Guayaquil, were actually organized by a clientelist patronage
system. In turn, the marginal conditions of the land lead to excessive costs
when public or collective services need to be constructed. However, it is also
clear that when deciding which areas are to benet from a supply of water, insti-
tutions tend to favour the most afuent or politically inuential neighbour-
hoods. Such areas may not only have the political power to act against people
or institutions who make decisions which are not in their interest, but will also
be more vocal, better funded and better trained in the ways and means of
lobbying and inuencing decision-makers. Furthermore, institutions perceive
that middle- and higher-income groups are likely to be much more reliable at
paying their bills, despite the fact that poorer households without connections
pay far higher bills for non-potable water than they would for the same volume
of piped water, and that, with the availability of piped water, opportunities
to increase income would also expand.
One factor hindering large-scale development of water supply systems in
Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s was the shortage of capital. Before 1982,
although there was never a plentiful supply of capital, credit could be obtained
from funding agencies, Western banks, or other nancial institutions. How-
ever, since the debt crisis became apparent in the 1980s, the supply of capital
and consequently of potable water for up to 50 million inhabitants of Latin
American cities has dried up. Across Latin America, massive foreign debts
were accumulated during the 1970s by the mainly military governments, as a
result of unaccountable and corrupt regimes being encouraged to take out
large loans by foreign banks. Thus, Brazils debt increased from US$10 billion
to US$100 billion, and Mexico borrowed $100 million despite a ten-fold
increase in its petroleum income. Virtually every other Latin American country
similarly obtained massive levels of borrowed capital. The price of these debts
is now being paid for by the urban poor in two ways: in the high tariffs they are
forced to pay for tanker water as a result of the failure of previous regimes to
Situating Guayaquil 59
invest borrowed capital productively in water supply schemes; and in the
economic austerity forced upon them by World Bank and IMF structural
adjustment programmes.
The structural adjustment programmes imposed upon Latin American gov-
ernments are now compounding this situation. In order to reduce scal decits,
the IMF insists upon smaller, self-nancing public services charging higher
prices, abandoning subsidies, and implementing privatization schemes.
Reduced expenditure results in even less maintenance being performed and
even fewer new projects being considered, thus perpetuating the exclusion of
the poor from potable water resources. Furthermore, even where poorer neigh-
bourhoods do have access to water connections, price increases have often put
the cost of water beyond the means of the urban poor, leaving them dependent
upon the standpipes and water vendors once more.
It has already been noted that the water supply problem is not one of
absolute scarcity but rather one of produced scarcity, and it is therefore
worthwhile considering who manages water and in what ways it is misman-
aged. In Latin America, water provision has traditionally been an area of
public intervention, based upon the legal classication of water as public or
government property. Most frequently, though, the potential for a well-
coordinated water provision strategy that such public ownership might seem to
offer is not realized due to the fragmentation of responsibility for water
between numerous different public institutions. In Argentina, Bolivia, Chile,
Colombia, Guatemala, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Venezuela a
plethora of institutions were involved but none took overall responsibility
(Biswas 1979: 30). In Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, and Peru there
are also numerous institutions but one institution has a coordinating role
and takes ultimate responsibility. Only in four countriesCuba, Ecuador,
Honduras, and Mexicois water management centralized in a single institu-
tion. In recent years, water privatization programmes, like that in Buenos Aires
or the failed attempt in Cochabamba in Colombia, have gained currency and
have been portrayed as the panacea to solve both the nancial crisis of public
supply systems and improving the service. While the former objective might be
achieved, there is little evidence that service provision and coverage has
improved signicantly.
Although giving one institution control over and responsibility for water
should encourage wiser investment and strategic planning, it by no means
ensures it. Institutions in Latin America have frequently been characterized by
inefciency, political interference, and excessive bureaucracy, all of which have
reduced their effectiveness. Water company funds have, for example, often been
diverted into other sectors of government, so that revenueswhere they are
accruedare rarely used to improve the network. Water companies have
also often been used as sources of employment for supporters of the political
elite. Most such appointments are administrative and command signicant
salaries, so that much needed funds are spent increasingly on salary payments.
60 Situating Guayaquil
Moreover, the ensuing bureaucracy can be self-perpetuating. New employees
expand their positions by creating new rules and procedures in order to protect
their own jobs, and in so doing gradually create further posts. The casualty, as
ever, is the budget for investment in infrastructure.
Fundamentally, however, the institutions of water management do not only
suffer from problems of inefciency, corruption, bureaucracy, and divided
responsibility: even when funds are available for investment they are used in
highly inappropriate ways. Almost invariably, funds are still pumped into
improving and expanding large-scale water distribution systems, despite the
fact that they increasingly provide more water for those who already have it
without signicantly expanding overall coverage. Encouraging greater econ-
omy in water use and extending provision to unserviced areas are seen as sec-
ondary priorities, despite the fact that they are normally more cost-effective.
Moreover, investment in additional capacity without extensions to the system
invariably leads to increased consumption among middle- and upper-income
groups. Given that water always becomes more expensive to provide as the
amount provided increases, increasing consumption above existing levels for
the middle and upper classes has negative nancial consequences for the water
companies, without beneting those in need in any way. In fact, water compa-
nies can nd themselves caught in a spiral of ever increasing investment when
providing water to city centres and wealthier districts, which has to be main-
tained to placate the politically vocal. Once water supply has been increased,
additional piped sewerage is required. As households become more accus-
tomed to in-house water and install baths, showers, irrigation systems, and
multiple taps, consumption increases still further. As a result of this, mains
pressure drops and householders complain. Further investment is then
demanded, and as a result of this extra water, the cycle begins again. Just as
those who have power control the water, and those who have water manipulate
those who have power, those who have no power have no water.
Crucial to any analysis of water supply and demand is an understanding that
water demand depends very much upon availability. Where water is made
widely available at low prices (as it is in most Latin American city centres and
wealthier residential districts), consumption practices are highly wasteful.
Awareness of the true value of water is minimal, water-saving technology is
scarce, and pricing policies do not promote conservation. In Buenos Aires, for
example, a combination of plentiful supply from the Rio de la Plata and a lack
of metering have brought about extremely high consumption patterns. Water is
often supplied at minimal costeven below cost price when capital invest-
ments, maintenance, and other expenses are taken into accountin well-
intentioned yet unsuccessful attempts to ensure that water prices do not put
water beyond the means of the poorest. The actual results of this policy are that
wealthier residents take access to large volumes of water at low cost for
granted, and use so much articially cheap water that the poorer, peripheral
areas which do have connections to the piped network suffer minimal or no
Situating Guayaquil 61
pressure and the districts without connections see funds which could be spent
on supplying them wasted on subsidizing garden sprinklers and fountains for
the wealthy. In Lima for example, leisure lakes are fed by the municipal La
Atarjea system, but more than 300,000 households have no service whatsoever
(Anton 1993: 155).
Thus setting articially low tariffs can be seen to be a pricing policy that has
failed to benet those in most need, and has in fact worked to their detriment.
Clearly, a more efcient tariff structure is urgently needed if water agencies are
to use their own resources properly and are to be able to extend their network.
Such a structure should aim to provide low-cost water for essential domestic
use but to charge high tariffs for any additional water use. For example, cheap
water could be supplied up to a volume of 100 LCD, with additional water
available at rapidly increasing tariffs. Such a system would require the existence
and satisfactory operation of water meters, but would be far superior to the
current situation in many Latin American cities where water use is charged at a
at rate or is even charged at decreasing unit costs with increasing consump-
tion. There is no nancial, engineering, or natural justication for such a tariff
system: it is indeed a vivid illustration of the way in which the management of
water supply is more a process of political management and manipulation than
natural resource provision.
The above provides the background against which the political ecology of
water urbanization in Guayaquil is framed. In the next section, we shall turn to
presenting the water condition in the city. The subsequent chapters, then, will
delve into the excavation of the political ecological processes through which
the urbanization of water in Guayaquil unfolded.
3.2 Exclusionary water practices in Guayaquil
3.2.1 The geography of water exclusion
Guayaquil is the largest and economically most powerful city in Ecuador.
Situated on the Pacic shore of the countrys humid lowlands, it suffers from
immense water problems. Billions of litres of water pass through the city
centre every day as the Rivers Daule and Babahoyo join to form the Guayas
stream, while almost half of its residents do not have access to reliable sources
of potable water and the whole city suffers from chronic water shortages. While
Quito is Ecuadors political centre and capital city, Guayaquil is the countrys
hustling and bustling port city, whose location is shown in Figure 3.1. Together
with Duran, located on the other side of the Guayas River, Guayaquils
metropolitan area today includes approximately 2 million inhabitants. About
600,000 of these live in unregulated or poorly regulated settlements that grew
out of invasions of landless rural workers, who started to migrate to the city
from the 1950s onwards.
62 Situating Guayaquil
The growth of metropolitan Guayaquil ran increasingly ahead of the provi-
sion of water services. As the political-ecological transformations of the coun-
tryside disintegrated rural society and caused accelerating rural to urban
migration, the state as the key locus for the provision of collective consumption
equipment failed to appropriate the necessary rents from the ecological
conquest of the urban hinterland to assure a parallel expansion of urban
services (see Chapters 4 and 5). Table 3.5 summarizes the recent evolution
of domesticated water in Ecuador, Quito, and Guayaquil. While the national
average showed signs of improvement over the 197490 period, the situation in
Guayaquil deteriorated signicantly, both in relative terms and in absolute
numbers. The rate of coverage fell by 9%, while the absolute and ofcial
number of city dwellers lacking access to piped water grew from 222,269 to
596,013, almost tripling in less than 20 years. Of the 169 cantonal capitals in the
country, 144 enjoy a better service than Guayaquil and 114 do better than
Situating Guayaquil 63
Fig. 3.1. The location of Guayaquil in Ecuador.
The 1990 census data for Guayaquil presented in Table 3.6 give further
details of water accessibility and the means of water provision in the city. Only
45% of the urban residents enjoy the luxury of fully domesticated water ow-
ing through indoor plumbing. A further 18% have some form of access to the
ofcial public water network, whereas the remainder are dependent on other
means to acquire their necessary supply of water. The overwhelming majority
of those who are excluded from the engineered water supply system rely on
64 Situating Guayaquil
Table 3.5. Potable water and sewerage services in
Quito, Guayaquil, and Ecuador, 19741990
(percentage of dwellings connected)
Quito Guayaquil Ecuador
% decit
Potable water
1974 85 73 222,269 43.7
1982 85 65 419,770 51.8
1990 83.3 64 596,013 57.1
1974 89 82 28.1
1982 52 33.6
1990 79.8 55.2 39.5
Sources: INEC, Census 1974; 1982; 1990.
Table 3.6. Water accessibility and water provision
in the metropolitan area of Guayaquil (City of
Guayaquil plus Duran), 1990
Houses % Inhabitants %
1o1:i 349,176 100 1,643,207 100
In-house 163,183 47 743,978 45
Outdoor 43,696 13 202,476 12
Neighbourhood 18,887 5 92,129 6
No-water 123,369 35 604,624 37
Public network 219,439 63 1,007,574 61
Private vendor 121,257 35 593,731 36
Well 4,315 1 21,315 1
River 1,410 0 7,031 0
Other 2,755 1 13,556 1
Sewerage 184,998 53 834,199 51
Collected waste 192,811 55 878,314 53
Source: INEC, Census 1990.
private water vendors. The number of those dependent on these monopolized
water speculators has grown spectacularly over the past 20 years, from about
200,000 in 1974 to almost 600,000 in 1990. However, most experts agree that,
on the whole, the census data underestimate the real gures, particularly in the
marginal peripheral settlements. According to these observers (see Scheers
1991), the actual population in 1990 was closer to 1.8 million, which would
make the number of people dependent on private water sellers closer to
800,000 than to the tabulated gure. Other sources, therefore, claim that the
rate of water coverage is signicantly poorer than assumed. Arellano (1992),
for example, maintains that the actual rate of water coverage fell from 76% in
1975 to 54% in 1991 and to as low as 50.3% in 1992.
Figure 3.2 shows the location of the main urban areas of Guayaquil. Figure
3.3 details the geography of water exclusion. The settlements in the southern
and northwestern peripheries are among the least serviced areas. In fact, there
is a clear water gradient from the central parts of the city to the periphery. In
Situating Guayaquil 65
Fig. 3.2. The city of Guayaquil and its main urban divisions.
66 Situating Guayaquil

Fig. 3.3. Percentage of dwellings served by water lorries in Guayaquil, 1990.

the most recent settlements (land invasions of the last 20 years), the whole
population is dependent on private water sellers, while the middle- and upper-
class residential areas to the north of the city centre are fully serviced through
the public water authority network. These data do indicate the socio-spatial
unevenness in terms of access to natures water and suggest how the ow of
water can indeed shed light on the mechanisms of socio-economic and politi-
cal power that shape the urbanization process and give the city its highly con-
tested, unequal, and oppressive characteristics.
Figure 3.4 shows the water supply system of Guyaquil. The pumping station
at La Lolita, 95km from the city, was the sole water supply system for the city
until 1950, although the connection with Guayaquil was severed in 1975 and at
present it only services Duran and the villages along the pipeline. In 1950, a
pumping and treatment station was built 25km upstream from Guayaquil on
the Guayas River. This station now has a theoretical annual capacity of 1.5
million m and mains pump the water to the city centre and to Salinas, a
resort town 140km from Guayaquil. Centrally located reservoirs (around
whichnot surprisinglythe middle- and upper-class residential areas are
located) are then the nodal points from which secondary mains and pipes
service the residential and central commercial areas along the model of a
classical herringbone structure.
But network connections do not guarantee a steady supply of water. The
technological structure of the system ensures high pressure and good quality
close to the urban reservoirs, whilst further away pressure falls rapidly and
supply is limited to a few hours a day. In fact, social inequality and water exclu-
sion is cemented into the technological engineering system itself. The suburban
areas, deprived of water connections or faced with chronic supply shortages,
are dependent on private water sellers (tanqueros) for their essential supply of
water. The latter procure their water from the public water company at three
lling stations, located along the mains that bring the bulk water to the city (see
Chapter 7). The northern sector of the city consumes on average 307 LCD,
while the southern sector has to make do with only 43 litres (see Table 3.7). The
northern part has an around-the-clock supply, while the southern sector
receives water of dubious quality for only 4 hours a day. Moreover, the techni-
cal efciency of the system is extremely low. In the areas with high pressure,
more than 50% of the water is lost through leakages and as a result of insuf-
cient accounting systems. Of course, the unreliable supply in the central and
southern parts of the city also leads to a social stratication of water use. While
average per capita consumption is well over 300 LCD, it is only 43 LCD in the
peripheral areas of the water system. This is still double the volume consumed
by those who are dependent on water vendors.
Nevertheless, the average production and supply capacity of the existing
facilities allow for a daily per capita consumption of 220 litres. Compared with
an international standard of 150 LCD, Guayaquil would be in a position to
provide every citizen with a sufcient supply of water. The key issue, therefore,
Situating Guayaquil 67
is one of distribution of available capacity rather than an issue of absolute
scarcity. The water scarcity experienced in some sectors of the city and among
some of its residents is socio-politically constructed rather than produced by
environmental or production constraints. In addition, supply problems within
68 Situating Guayaquil
Fig. 3.4. The water supply system in Guayaquil.
the piped network make the existence of relative scarcity more acceptable to
large sections of the populationboth poor and richand lower the expecta-
tions as to the quality and quantity of the services provided. As Vsconez
(1988b: 14) puts it:
In the consolidated [improved] invasion settlements, the problem of potable water is not
entirely resolved, but at least the majority of the dwellings are connected to the supply
network. Although the levels of supply are considered insufcient, the situation really
becomes unsustainable only during periods of drought or rationing. Here, a phenome-
non occurs that is the opposite of how abundance of supply makes shortages infamous
and unjust. In fact, the perception of absolute shortages renders relative shortages
acceptable to a certain extent. The existence of extreme poverty, therefore, leads to a
lowering of expectations of the less poor. (my translation)'
In short, the ideology of production management, serving clear local inter-
ests and propagated by international nanciers and ofcial development agen-
cies, produced and perpetuates the existing mechanism of uneven access and
outright exclusion and obfuscates both the issue of a just and empowering dis-
tribution and the pressing problem of equitable water management. Ironically,
this constructed scarcity lowers the expectations of many urban residents, and
consequently helps to defuse the potential for social mobilization and grass-
roots rebellion. Nevertheless, the average daily production of water per capita
does indeed suggest that sufcient (although certainly below Western con-
sumption standards) amounts of water are available to allow for the whole of
the urban population in these cities to have sufcient water for a healthy and
acceptable standard of living.
Situating Guayaquil 69
Table 3.7. Geographical distribution of water
supply and consumption through the ofcial
network, 1990
Sector North Centre South
Number of inhabitants 421,214 422,985 272,393
Water supplied (m
litres/day) 272,471 99,500 16,000
Water/inhabitant/day (litres) 307 160 43
Average hours of service 24 10 4
Source: EPAP (1991a).
' En los barrios populares consolidados el problema del agua potable no est enteramente resuelto,
pero, por los menos, la mayoria de las viviendas est connectada a las redes y, si bien, la cantidad de usar-
ios vuelven insucientes las dotaciones actuales, las situaciones slo se vuelven insostenibles en pocas
secas o de racionamiento. Ocurre aqui un fenmeno inverso al de las opulencias que habia notorias y
injustas las carencias: al contrario, la percepcin de las carencias absolutas, par contraste, vuelven en
cierto modo y hasta cierto punto, soportables las situaciones de escasez relativa. La existencia de pro-
brezas extremas puede, de hecho, empujar a la baja las aspiraciones de sectores menos pobres.
3.2.2 Urban segregation, land rent, and the control over water
The expansion of the city due to the exodus of rural peasants and rapid inter-
nal growth took place largely on marginal lands without infrastructure, with
difcult topographies, and which yielded very little, if any, actual or prospec-
tive land rent (Rojas and Villavicencio 1988; Brustein 1988c). Vsconez (1988b:
7) argues that the spatial structuring of water provision, i.e. the geographical
distribution of urban areas with different levels of access to water, resulted in a
differential valorization of the price of land and denition of urban land use.
This condition accentuated the housing problem of the poor as their economic
position and the high price of (serviced) urban land forced them to locate in
areas deprived of infrastructure and collective equipment (with the exception
of the tugurized central areas`) because the very absence of facilities kept land
prices low (Brustein 1988c; Vsconez 1988b). Moreover, this process was often
implicitly and explicitly encouraged by the local state as the occupation of mar-
ginal low-value land preserved and, in the end, increased the potential rent of
developable urban land in prime suburban areas. As such, marginal suburban-
ization became an element in and an expression of wider urban land specula-
tion on the one hand, while serving clientelist interests through rst condoning
and later actually organizing land invasions and the subsequent piecemeal pro-
vision of some basic services (roads, electricity, and in some cases water) on the
other (see Rojas and Villavicencio (1988) for a discussion of Guayaquil). The
invaded lands consequently became pivotal areas for cultivating a clientelist
political system of patronage, both through the organized provision of land
and the personalized delivery of services.
Ironically, the initial advantage of low urban rent values is quickly replaced
by the extraction of extortionate geographic or location rent through the
monopoly control of water vendors over the distribution of water. What was
saved on land rent is spent many times over on the purchase of water (see
Chapter 7). In this sense, the housing question is deeply related to the question
of access to other key consumption commodities. While families could afford
to move to under-serviced marginal lands exactly because the absence of ser-
vices kept land prices down, other spatial rents resulting from inadequate or
lacking public provision skyrocketed. The social production of nature and its
recycling through monetary circulation expresses and creates political eco-
nomic relations of power, domination, and exclusion. The urban expansion
into the mangrove-covered areas south of city (which form Guasmo and
Suburbio and now extend into Isla Trinitaria (see Plate 3.1) ) and the land inva-
sions, which form Mapasingue and Bastion Popular (see Plate 3.2), exem-
plify the above considerations for the case of Guayaquil (see Figure 3.2).
Conversely, inhabitants of marginal urban settlements are often reluctant to
70 Situating Guayaquil
` Tugurizacin refers to the process of central city densication through the internal division of
houses into rented accommodation to house incoming rural families. Service provision is usually precar-
ious and living conditions leave much to be desired (Cadme and Morocho 1980).
Situating Guayaquil 71
Plate 3.1. Drowning in water and starving from thirst: Isla Trinitaria, Guayaquil.
Plate 3.2. High and dry: Bastion Popular, Guayaquil.
struggle for domestic water supply connections not only because of their often
precarious and uncertain legal and institutional positions, but also because ser-
vice provisions are likely to cause an increase in land values. The latter might in
the end even affect their positions within the area as higher-income groups,
attracted by the improved servicing and increased value, might in fact force the
original residents out. The poor are, consequently, caught between paying
higher water rents or facing the consequences of increased land rents. A class
gradient therefore emerges, in which consolidated and serviced formal invasion
settlements are increasingly occupied by the middle classes, pushing poorer res-
idents and new immigrants into the more peripheral and more recent invasion
Moreover, the specic geographical characteristics of marginal settle-
mentspoor location, difcult topography, and obsolete infrastructure (in the
case of Tugurized city centres)facilitate the continuing exclusion of the
urban poor by reinforcing technical arguments and blaming the lack of invest-
ment funds as the main reasons for continuing water deprivation. The appar-
ent technological managerial nature of the problem of urban service provision
further feeds the productivist logic, which both friends and foes regard as the
key issue. The operation of the political and socio-economic dynamics shaping
peripheral urbanization and water distribution can be discarded or disguised in
the ideology of underdevelopment, by blaming a lack of nancing, expertise,
and technology for the problems of difcult access and lack of supply. In ad-
dition, the bunching of services in the central city areas which more or less
coincides with the spatial extent of the water network produces a bundle of
mutually reinforcing positive externality effects for the industrial, commercial,
and nancial activities which concentrate there, and further accentuates segre-
gation and exclusionary urban spatial and residential organization.
Finally, in contrast with agricultural consumption, urban water use is char-
acterized by the social and physical metabolism of water rather than its nal
consumptive use or its integration into new and transformed commodities.
This means that used water remains in place as residential, commercial, or
industrial waste water and poses a serious health threat if not efciently
removed. As the data in Tables 3.5 and 3.6 show, infrastructure for the second
half of the circulation of water, the physical evacuation of sewage from the city,
trails even further behind potable water supply systems in terms of area cov-
ered. Evidently, the absence of adequate sewerage systems to deal with the mil-
lions of cubic litres of more or less contaminated urban water is most acutely
felt in the marginal suburban settlements and coincides with the absence of
potable water supply networks. If we add inadequate garbage collection to that
list (see, for example, Olaya 1991), the marginal settlement dwellers are literally
trapped and drowning in their own excrements without access to water to clean
it up or circulating conduits to ush the houses and streets. At the same time
however, the sharpening of these segregation process and ensuing social con-
icts intensies the urban crisis and contributes to the further deterioration of
everyday urban life. Even the rich can only escape from this urban degeneration
72 Situating Guayaquil
by exercising their superior command over space, and catching the next plane
to Miami.
3.2.3 A matter of life and death: the geography of the
hydraulic health problem
The social struggle for control over and use of available water is clearly not only
unfolding within the urban arena with its characteristic mechanisms of access
to and exclusion from water, but also takes a much wider form in the socio-
geographical rivalry between alternative uses, i.e. agricultural, industrial/
commercial, and residential. Not only has groundwater and uvial pollution
increased over recent years as a result of seepage and disposal of heavy metals,
synthetic and agricultural chemicals, and other hazardous wastes, but over-
pumping has also caused salt water to inltrate freshwater aquifers or to move
further up river mouths. This, combined with malfunctioning or absent sewer-
age systems, negatively affects water quality, poses serious health threats, and
pushes water treatment costs spiralling upward (World Bank 1992: 47). For
example, in Lima upstream pollution has increased treatment costs by about
30% (World Bank 1992: 101). In Guayaquil, upstream irrigation projects not
only divert water from the River Daule (an estimated future use of 100
litres/second), but are also associated with more intensive agriculture and its
associated fertilizer-rich run-off, leading to potential eutrophication problems
in the river. This has already led to regular spectacular blooms of water lilies,
which, in turn, clog the lters and diminish the pumping capacity of the water
treatment station. Periods of fast growth invariably lead to water shortages in
the city. This process is also likely to cause higher water production costs in the
Within the urban sphere, the struggle to acquire water and remove sewage is
quite literally a matter of life and death. There has been a resurgence of cholera
epidemics in Latin America (particularly in the Andean countries of Peru,
Bolivia, and Ecuador) since 1990, and the disease is now endemic in some
regions. This is the most dramatic example of the deterioration of sanitary
conditions in urban slums and is largely caused by ineffective sanitation, poor
water supply, and insufcient or non-existent sewerage connections. For exam-
ple, in the province of Guayas, there were 14,951 reported Cholera cases
(5.1/1,000 inhabitants) in 1991 and a further 11,558 in the rst ten months of
1992. In these two years, cholera was the third most frequently reported illness
on a list of 40 diseases, after inuenza and diarrhoea (itself related to water
quality). Moreover, of the 50 main causes of mortality, gastrointestinal
diseases (mostly related to unsatisfactory sanitary and hygienic conditions
related to water quality and waste-water disposal) came eighth for the city of
Guayaquil (14.3/100,000 inhabitants). In the marginal urban areas, drinking
water was in 1991 the fourth most lethal activity (after heart diseases, pneumo-
nia, and trafc accidents, but before homicides) (Direccin de Salud de Guyas
1992). Water-related diseases were directly responsible for 3.5% of all deaths
Situating Guayaquil 73
for the city as a whole and for 4.9% of deaths in the peripheral settlements
(Suburbio, Guasmo, Isla Trinitaria, Mapasingue). Both the illegally tapped
water as well as the water distributed by water vendors is often highly bacterio-
logically contaminated, with serious negative health consequences. Table 3.8
shows the level of bacteriological contamination of drinking water in a num-
ber of areas in Guayaquil.
For children, the water-related health problems take dramatic proportions.
Intestinal infections are the fourth most important cause of infant mortality
(3.3 per 1,000 live births in 1992) and are by far the most important infant
illness. In an average week in Guayaquil (data for 2431 October 1992),
diarrhoea was by far the most reported disease among children under 5 years
old on a list of 22 controlled epidemiological illnesses. Of a total of 1,850
cases, 1,018 were diarrhoea-type diseases (55%), followed by 613 cases (33.1%)
suffering from sub-optimal weight and malnutrition (Direccin de Salud de
Guayas 1992).
In addition to the evident health problems and the uneven geography of
water-related deaths, the struggle over water is also related to forms of social
domination and exclusion and to psychological stress. The uncertainty about
daily water supply, the time invested (usually womens time), and the energy
spent on waiting, hauling, carrying, or working for water, waste productive
time and energy. Above all, however, it restricts the time available for creative
and emancipatory living as the exclusionary practices of the political economy
of water control submerge other activities under the daily quest for urban
Moreover, while deeply implicated in the reproduction of labour and family
relations, the struggle to get water simultaneously threatens this very process.
In addition, the search for water is by no means gender-blind. On the contrary,
the struggle for water reinforces gender divisions and gender domination.
For example, private water vendors are, without exception, male, while the
74 Situating Guayaquil
Table 3.8. Bacteriological analysis of drinking water in selected
parts of the city
Location Total count/ml. Coliforms/ml.
Av. Carlos Julio Arosemana 5 0
Av. De las Americas 0 0
Las Peas 3 0
Centro de Guayaquil 13 0
Av. Domingo Comn (sample 1) Uncountable 10
Av. Domingo Comn (sample 2) 30 0
Guasmo Uncountable 0
Note: The bottom three are samples from water sold by tanqueros.
Source: Fundacin Natura (El Universo, 31 July 1992).
overwhelming majority of buyers and main users are female. The uncertainty
and irregularity of water supply and its often time-consuming character forces
one family member, again usually the woman, to stay close to the house to
attend to the daily routine of water buying and/or haulage. The high cost of
water is compounded with the loss of time that could otherwise be spent more
productively. In addition, the water is often of poor quality and unsuitable for
drinking, thereby increasing expenditure on alternative, but equally commodi-
ed, substitute liquids such as sodas (Coca-Cola is ubiquitous, but its price is
equal to about two hours of labour for a minimum wage earner), mineral, or
puried water. The latter is usually the cheapest alternative at approximately
US$0.5 for 4 litres.
All of this suggests how the circulation of water is caught into the contra-
dictory development of the urbanization process and the political economy of
power that shapes the socio-spatial structure of the city. Indeed, the serious
shortcomings of water provision in Guayaquil bring water to centre stage in the
relationships of political, economic, and cultural power through which the
urbanization process takes place. The struggle for water and the contested
nature of the uneven access to water turns the water issue into a highly con-
tested terrain. Elements of class, gender, and ethnic relationships become
embedded in the circulation of water. The water circulation process, therefore,
can be used as a means to excavate the multiplicity of power relationships
within the city.
However, before we turn to the political ecological processes through which
access to and exclusion from water is organized, it is imperative to reconstruct
the historical geographical processes through which the urbanization of water
in Guayaquil was organized. In the following two chapters, the history of
Guayaquils urbanization process will be written from the perspective of the
need to urbanize and domesticate natures water and the parallel necessity to
push the ecological frontier outward as the city expanded.
Situating Guayaquil 75
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Social Power and the Urbanization
of Water in Guayaquil, Ecuador
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The Urban Conquest of Water in
Guayaquil, 18801945: Cocoa and
the Urban Water Dream
About 40 miles from Duran we passed the water purifying plant of the
Guayaquil water system. The source of this supply is in the high mountains
in the backcountry. Before I left home an old sea captain warned me not to
drink water in Guayaquil unless it had been boiled . . . I am sure now that
the Captain sailed the seas before the Rockefeller Foundation made
Guayaquil sanitary and in so doing wiped out yellow fever for which it was
notorious, and before the city installed its present modern water system.
Desmarest 1937: 54
Tratemos de imaginar, por un momento, las soleadas calles del centro del
puerto recorridasde tanto en tantopor un parsimonioso tranva elc-
trico o un lustroso Ford, o transitadas por unos cuantos peatones
mostrando impecable levita y sombrero tostada, accompaado damas de
botn, falda al pie y sombrero con encaje; al cine Edn iban por las tardes a
espectasantes que en Buenos Aires o Santiagolos lms por rollos de
los Barrymore, mientras el Teatro Olmedo vesta sus mejores galas noctur-
nas recibiendo al conjunto lrico de Bracalle y a la prima donna Iris.
Martinez 1988: 1112
The problems outlined in the previous chapter evolve from particular histori-
cal political ecological processes. As the urbanization process is predicated
upon the mastering and engineering of natures water, the ecological conquest
of water is an integral part of the expansion and growth of the city. At the same
time, the capital required to build and expand the urban landscape is itself, at
least in the case of Guayaquil, generated through the political ecological trans-
formation of the citys hinterland. In this and the following chapters, we shall
explore the historical dynamics of the urbanization process through the lens of
this double ecological conquest. The citys growth created the need for water
systems, which stretched further and further from the city in order to tap addi-
tional water resources. Foreign capital had to be generated to nance the
imported technology of these projects. This necessitated a sound export-based
economy, initially driven by cocoa (until the early twentieth century), bananas
(from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s), and oil (from 1973 onwards). The
urban process was consequently embedded in a double ecological conquest:
ever greater ows of water became urbanized, while the citys hinterland was
socially and ecologically transformed. The latter conquest, in turn, plugged the
Ecuadorean economy into the international division of labour. Guayaquil was
the arena and medium through which those circuits of transformed nature and
money were organized.
The contemporary social struggle around water is evidently the result of the
deeply exclusive and marginalizing ways in which political, economic, and
ecological power have been worked out. The current water system and water
politics exemplify the wider socio-economic and political processes that char-
acterized Guayaquils urbanization process.
4.1 The making of the Ecuadorean bourgeoisie
and the rst urbanization of water
4.1.1 The origins of the commodied watering of the city
Until the mid-nineteenth century, Guayaquil was just a large port village on
Ecuadors Pacic coast, surviving in the shadow of the political and former
colonial centre of Quito and the economically dominant Sierra (Andean high-
land) hacienderos. In 1780, Quito had a population of 28,500 compared to
6,600 in Guayaquil, and by the mid-nineteenth century these gures had risen
to 36,000 and 25,000 respectively. Until 1700, the potable water supply for the
approximately 5,000 residents of Guayaquil came from wells dug at the foot of
the Cerro Santa Ana. Later, when water demand outstripped the supply of the
wells, the local water had to be complemented by commercialized water trans-
ported from the Daule River. The water was captured approximately 25km
upstream from the city, because of downstream saline waters (Estrada 1974),
and is the current site of the main treatment station of La Toma (see Fig. 3.4).
Professional indigenous aguateros or water vendors' transported the water by
rafts and mules carried the barrelled water around town (Estrada 1972: 50).
Speculative water politics were quite common, ranging from the formation of
cartels to increase the water price to the selling of (more saline) water captured
downstream, thereby saving on time and transportation costs. From 1739
onwards, the local authorities organized regular raft journeys to haul water
from the river, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, water vending
was a very lucrative business as water haulage and distribution fell increasingly
under market rules. While other small Ecuadorean towns still had local wells or
reasonably clean local river water, Guayaquil depended more and more on an
80 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
' The local name for these water vendors was mitayos (Perez Pimentel 1987: 116).
already fairly sophisticated social and material water economy that combined
private and public actors.
Although several attempts were made to regulate the aguateros or
aguadores by setting price levels, prices remained high. The considerable
returns of water businesses attracted new and more powerful economic actors
into the water economy. Even the ethnic composition of water vendors began
to change. Originally an activity organized by indigenous people, the circula-
tion of water became increasingly organized by and under the control of mes-
tizos (people of mixed ethnic descent) or whites. Indeed, while water haulage
and distribution originated as a fairly marginal activity whereby indigenous
proto-entrepreneurs could nd a business niche that permitted basic survival,
these were driven out by mestizos and whites as the revenues, and hence the
power of water, increased. By 1890, the monthly wage of a water carrier was
about 24 sucres (Pineo 1996: 60) and comparable to that of a skilled worker.
The changing ethnic composition of the division of labour in the organization
of the production and delivery of urban water was paralleled by a deepening
transformation of the divisions in terms of water consumption. The spreading
commodication of water resulted in a social stratication of water consump-
tion as this depended increasingly on peoples ability to pay. The poor were
forced to use (dirty) well water or hauled muddy drinking water out of the
Guayas river from the very piers that also served as toilets (Pineo 1996: 102).
More wealthy inhabitants could afford to pay for the river water or to use
expensive porous stones to purify the water (Prez Pimentel 1987). Estrada
(1972), for example, notes how access to water became socially highly stratied:
To quench their thirst, the rich drank sangria; the middle class water from the Daule
River, and the poor. . . . they drank badly tasting water from the pumps in the old city
or from the river . . . stored in a pot or ltered through large stones. (my translation)`
This basic and decentralized, but commodied, system of untreated crude
urban water supply remained in place until the end of the nineteenth century.
A rst attempt at constructing a sewerage system was made in 1859 when city-
workers dug a 10-mile open channel to carry excrement into the laguna. How-
ever, this proved to be totally inadequate and dung heaps in the city grew bigger
and bigger (Pineo 1996: 101). A rst sewer line was completed in 1892, but this
had broken down completely by 1903. However, the variety of efforts to sani-
tize the city that were emerging in Europe had captured the imagination of the
enlightened Guayaquileo elites who ventured to modernize their own envi-
ronments on the basis of the European experience. Trade links, and the fre-
quent travels of the nascent Ecuadorean bourgeoisie to Europe, fused the
modernizing visions and engineering capabilities that had swept through the
old continent with the aspirations of the local elite to mobilize this cultural
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 81
` Para calmar la sed de los ricos tomaban sangria; la clase media agua del Daule; y los pobres. . . . agua
desabrida al gusto, de los pozos de la ciudad vieja o del Rio . . . decantada en una olla o ltrada a travs
de grandes piedras.
capital as emblematic manifestations of their own social and political eco-
nomic ascent. The rst studies to equip the city with a circulating running water
network were undertaken, and the contest for control over and domestication
of water began to intensify (Manrique 1940).
The rst urban water engineering studies were initiated in the second half of
the nineteenth century, but they did not attract sufcient interest (or funds).
Between 1823 and 1885, for example, several attempts were made to start large
water projects in Guayaquil, all of which failed because of a combination of
systematic rejection of national (state) support and the absence of local inter-
est and nancing. This reects Guayaquils lack of nancial economic power
and political inuence at the national level during the early years after inde-
pendence (1830). In 1880 the local authorities contracted a team of engineers
to build the rst waterworks, including the construction of reservoirs and a
pipe network. However, this attempt at constructing a public water supply
failed, as local investors did not show any interest in participating in the
planned Empresa de Agua Potable (Potable Water Company). In 1884, at the
height of the cocoa boom, a public tender was put out to initiate water and
canalization works. The nancing of the project (estimated at 716,000 pesos),
which was started in 1887, was secured through a loan from the Banco de
Crdito Hipotecario after the local authority agreed to buy a plot of presum-
ably worthless inundated and marshy land owned by the bank. This land did
not yield any rent at the time, but after 1945 became part of the invaded settle-
ment of Suburbio (Prez Pimentel 1987: 1201; Rojas and Villavicencio 1988;
Villavicencio 1992). The deal allowed the bank to cash in on the worthless land
and to use the generated rent to nance the waterworks.
This rst water project was executed by a French company employing
a series of mostly foreign (German, Italian, British, French) engineers.
The reservoir on the Cerro del Carmen was inaugurated on 6 July 1892,
and was lled the following day with water piped from a point on the Agua
Clara river 88km east of the city (see inset A on Fig. 3.4). By New Years Day
1893, the rst distribution network was in place and from 30 January of that
year, the rst 150 houses could enjoy the luxury of domesticated water. In the
subsequent years, the network was gradually extended by the local authority
under the management of the Junta de Canalizacin y Proveedora del Agua
Potable de Guayaquil, created by President Eloy Alfaro in 1896 and partially
nanced through a tax on cocoa exports (Villavicencio, Rojas, and Olaya
Lavatory import businesses were set up very shortly afterwards, and our-
ished despite the fact that waste water still had to be collected in buckets or
allowed to ow freely over the patio to be absorbed by the ground. Toilets and
indoor plumbing became valued symbols of cultural capital and testied to the
social status of the residents. The urban poor visited the sanitized houses to
82 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
It is exactly on these marginal municipal lands that the post-1930 land invasions would begin.
marvel at the imported and nely decorated porcelain or tiled artefacts for
bodily hygiene and cleansing (Prez-Pimentel 1987: 123; El Universo 1979).
Both city and body joined the conquest for a sanitized, hygienic, and deodor-
ized being. Status, gender and power became reected by the odours of the
body. As Pineo (1996: 74) put it:
The wealthy adorned their homes with telephones, indoor plumbing, refrigerators,
typewriters, various Westinghouse kitchen appliances and even gas lights and stoves.
Special imports included American whiskey such as Old Grand Dad, champagne (at
four Sucre a bottle in 1925), ne soaps, or Ever-Sweet underarm deodorant, they could
purchase at better stores.
The domestication and commodication of water and the associated strati-
ed and exclusionary water practices placed urban water control and use
squarely into the realm of social differentiation and status. This, in turn,
brought water appropriation even more to the foreground in marking and con-
solidating relations of power and class positions. While the white rich would
defecate in the sometimes silver bowl of the toilet, comforted by the privacy of
their custom-made decorated lavatories, and perfumed men and women would
promenade along the waterside boulevard and visit the theatre, the poor con-
tinued to use the streets as a public toilet, and the river for essential bodily
hygiene. Pineo (1996: 102) recalls the memoirs of a visitor in 1914 who wrote
that lth continued to accumulate . . . in the houses and patios, or courtyards,
especially those of the poorer classes and wastewater from taverns, factories,
laundries, and homes slopped all over Guayaquil. People urinated and defe-
cated wherever they found a place as the urge came.
4.1.2 Domesticating water: a double ecological conquest
The mobilization of the city and the state around a growing preoccupation
with the water urbanization process paralleled a changing socio-spatial class
situation and a reconguration of the state apparatus at the turn of the century.
In fact, the successful watering of the city at the start of the twentieth century
signalled and reected rapid changes in the political economic position of the
city and its ruling elites. Indeed, after independence, and particularly from
1850 onwards, the early post-colonial society underwent signicant socio-
spatial changes as Ecuador was gradually transformed into an agro-export
economy. The agro-export-based Ecuadorean accumulation model originated
with the expansion of world demand (particularly in Europe) for and trade in
cocoa around 1860. The growth of cocoa production in the coastal region of
the country and the concomitant rise of cocoa exports reshufed the social
composition of Ecuador. The country had hitherto been characterized by an
economically and politically dominant class of Sierra hacienderos on the one
hand and an impoverished, politically excluded, and unfree, sharecropping
(huasipungo) indigenous peasantry on the other. The most widespread form of
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 83
labour was forced work by peasantry (3 to 5 days per week) on the land of the
Andean haciendero, a system that was nally abolished only in the 1970s.
By 1890, however, cocoa accounted for 90% of total exports, and in
1904 Ecuador became the worlds leading exporter of cocoa (Aguirre 1984;
Chiriboga 1980: 261). The old coastal socio-ecological complex, originally
characterized by small-scale subsistence production cultivated by a largely
endogenous peasantry, had given way to immense cocoa plantations. Cocoa
production needed relatively little capital investment and the local elites could
mobilize sufcient capital to set up cocoa plantations and export businesses. A
variety of forms of waged work characterized capitallabour relations on these
plantations. The forced and rapid formation of a wage-dependent class, com-
bined with a disintegration of the peasantry, fed not only the growing demands
for wage labour in the coastal plantations, but also for auxiliary waged func-
tions in the city. Between 1896 and 1909, for example, the population of
Guayaquil grew by 2.5% annually (Rojas and Villavicencio 1988: 22) (see Table
The rapid accumulation of cocoa capital, and the enrichment of coastal
cocoa producers, cocoa exporters, and their nancial support centres resulted
in the rise of an urban merchant and nancial bourgeoisie in Guayaquil, the
84 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
Table 4.1. Population change in Guayaquil,
Year Total Source Year Total Source
1537 150 a 1880 36,000 a
1571 320 c 1890 44,792 b
1587 786 b 1895 55,000 b
1605 1,100 d 1896 58,000 a
1620 2,000 c 1905 81,650 b
1678 6,000 c 1910 82,000 h
1693 5,000 a 1919 91,842 b
1734 11,000 a 1920 100,000 a
1764 4,914 h 1930 116,047 f
1793 8,000 c 1935 135,190 f
1805 14,000 a 1944 200,000 f
1814 15,000 a 1950 258,966 e
1820 20,000 a 1962 510,804 e
1857 25,000 a 1974 823,219 e
1875 26,000 b 1982 1,199,344 e
1879/82 31,972 b 1985 1,469,353 g
1990 1,655,592 e
Data for 1990 combine Guayaquil and Duran.
Sources: (a) Chvez (1944); (b) Hidalgo (1932); (c) Estrada (1972); (d)
Hamerly (1973); (e) INEC, Census 1950, 1962, 1974, 1982, 1990; (f)
PREDAM (1976); (g) Rojas and Villavicencio (1988: 1812); (h) Pineo
(1996: 2).
increasing monetization of everyday life and its social relations, and the afr-
mation and later consolidation of the economic position of the city (Bock
1988; Chiriboga 1988). The rise of the Guayaquileo metropolis was predi-
cated on the transformation of nature and the integration of a new cocoa-
based agricultural ecology in the process of production and rent extraction.
The rural and urban social and physical environment were both transformed
through this social-ecological conquest, which inserted the coastal region
squarely into a worldwide monetary circulation process and produced the city
as the nexus for cocoa rent appropriation, accumulation, and uneven distribu-
tion. The engine of Guayaquils growth during the rst decades of the twenti-
eth century were the copious cocoa harvests in the coastal region surrounding
the city, and its insertion into a global trading system.
In addition to serving as Ecuadors main gate to the Pacic and the world
market, Guayaquil became the regional centre for cocoa producers and con-
centrated the key merchant and nancial functions, together with their support
activities. The circulation of money as land rent, commercial rent, and nan-
cial interest was materialized in the bourgeoisication of the city and the rise of
an urban rentier class. By 1909, 90% of cocoa production and 80% of all
Ecuadors exports passed through Guayaquil. A local comprador bourgeoisie
of landowners, merchants, and nanciers, together with the mainly European
cocoa importers, shared the rents extracted from the migrating workers who
transformed natures ecology and shaped the cocoa-based, and produced,
second nature in the lowlands around Guayaquil. The realization and appro-
priation of these cocoa rents and their reinvestment in the urban environment
dened both the form and function of the city and the social position of its pro-
moters (Allou 1987: 25). The monetization of labour relations (which did not
occur in the Sierra) in turn fed migration to the coastal cocoa haciendas and to
Guayaquil. In addition, many small and medium-sized peasant farms were
squeezed out as the consolidation of cocoa haciendas was accompanied by a
massive concentration of land, bringing the socio-ecological transformation of
natures production process under the control of a small coastal oligarchy.
By the end of the nineteenth century, 20 families controlled 70% of the land
in the cocoa region (Chiriboga 1988: 64). Table 4.2 summarizes the net worth
and economic importance of the comprador bourgeoisie of Guayaquil in
1901. Newly established banks ploughed the cocoa rents produced in the citys
socio-ecologically transformed hinterland back into the circulation of money,
which was in turn recycled mainly through urban investments. Indeed, in the
wake of the bourgeoisication of Guayaquil, the rst merchant banks were set
up. In 1868, the Banco del Ecuador (later Banco de Guayaquil) was established
by Lautaro Aspiazu and Lisimaco Guzmn, both of whom belonged to the
agro-export group. In 1872, the Banco de Crdito e Hipotecario was set up,
which, among others, issued bonds to nance the engineering works for the
Guayaquil Water Company (Agua Potable de Guayaquil) (Bock 1988: 28).
This was followed in 1895 by the formation of the Banco Agricola y Comercial,
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 85
also by the Banking-Agro-Exporter group (Carrin 1991). The concentration
of cocoa rents in the nancial sector and the subsequent loans made to the
national government gave the local bourgeoisie a strong leverage on the
national state (Allou 1987; Moncayo 1974: 13), which also contributed to
the waning of the Sierra elites hegemony. The latter had been negatively
affected by the downturn in the textile sector and began to feel the sting of a ris-
ing coastal elite, whose political ambitions rose alongside their growing eco-
nomic and nancial muscle. By 1924, for example, 80% of the states debt was
held by Guayaquileo banks (Moncayo 1974: 113). In addition to its growing
inuence at the national scale, the commercial and nancial rentier bourgeoisie
also began to control hegemonic urban institutions such as La Junta de
Beneciencia, la Cmera de Comercio, the clubs, the Masonic societies, the
newspapers and, even some schools (Quintero 1980: 856).
The emergence of the Guayaquileo metropolis was indeed based on the
transformation of nature and the integration of a new cocoa-based agricul-
tural ecology into the process of production and rent extraction. The social
and ecological metabolism through which cocoa became urbanized in
Guayaquil, and subsequently integrated in global ows of cocoa beans and
money fused nature and society together in new ways that would shape and
transform the citys urbanization process. At the same time, the map of politi-
cal power was redrawn in new ways. Despite the rapid growth of the city during
the second half of the century (70,000 inhabitants by 1900), which led to its size
surpassing that of Quito, political power remained in the hands of the Sierra
landowners for most of that early period. Nevertheless, the emerging coastal
bourgeoisie increasingly challenged the hegemony of the Serrano landed
aristocracy. The consolidation of the position of the rentier comprador
86 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
Table 4.2. Number of businesses and their net worth, Guayaquil, 1901
Type of business Number Worth % of Guayaquils
(1,000 sucres) capital assets
Banks, savings and 7 13,618 39
loans institutions
Importers 391 8,831 25
Exporters 30 4,429 13
Financiers 141 2,313 7
Fire insurance 14 2,230 6
Companies 13 1,145 3
Factories 34 852 2
Steamboat companies 19 376 1
Retail lumber 11 357 1
1o1:i 34,801
Source: Pineo (1996: 65).
bourgeoisie towards the end of the century was paralleled by a marked politi-
cal geographic and ecological shift:
[The origins of capitalist development] show a distinct regional character, because it
started in the humid and tropical plains of the coastal region as a result of its insertion
into the world market and the international division of labour of the nineteenth cen-
tury. In the meantime, the Sierra highlands maintained the inherited colonial social
structures without major changes (based on the huasipungo hacienda system). There-
fore, it is in the coastal plains that a bourgeoisie is formed. Later a bourgeoisie will
emerge in the Andean region as well, but its historical origin differs from that of the
cocoa-related export bankers and of the Guayaquileo merchants and industrialists
(Guerrero 1980: 1112). (my translation)
Through these political economic and ecological shifts, the urban commer-
cial and banking bourgeoisie in alliance with coastal landowners and cocoa
producers now controlled the city and the countryside and began to aspire for
more political inuence at the national level (Conaghan 1988; Conaghan and
Espinal 1990). The coastal political elite increasingly challenged the hegemony
of the Serrano landed aristocracy (Guerrero 1980). Guayaquils lead in the
Revolucin Liberal of 1895 that propelled Eloy Alfaro, a coastal liberal, to
the presidency of the country, would eventually displace the traditional elites
from their hegemonic control over the central state institutions. They created a
new regional conguration, this time dominated by the lowlands, through the
transfer of power to the merchant bourgeoisie:
The commercial and nancial bourgeoisie of Guayaquil achieved control over the
whole national economy. Then, leading a broad and heterogeneous alliance of diverse
social groups, they launched on to the conquest of political power. (Muoz Vicua
1987, also cited in Bock 1988: 27) (my translation)
The Liberal Revolution did not so much bring about new forms of political
action or intervention as shift the power geometry from Quito to Guayaquil,
while the booming cocoa economy meant that the new elites could marshal a
much greater volume of capital (Hurtado 1985; Rodrguez 1984). The rapid
urban accumulation of cocoa rents, growing residential and functional segre-
gation, and the consolidation of a new economic, cultural, and political elite
transformed the state at both the local and national level. The transformation
and appropriation of nature by means of a reconguration of social relations
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 87
[Los origines del desarollo capitalista] presentan un carcter regional marcado, pues se ubican en la
planicie hmeda y tropical de la Costa, como consecuencia de su insercin en el mercado y divisin de tra-
bajo mundiales en el siglo XIX; mientras el callejn interandino, la Sierra, conserva sin modicaciones
mayores las estructuras sociales de herencia colonial (basadas en la forma de hacienda huasipunguera).
Es, por consiguiente, en la Costa donde se constituye por la primera vez una burguesa. En forma tardia
brota tambien una clase burguesa en las ciudades andinas, pero su origen histrico diere de aquel de los
banqueros exportadores del cocoa y de los comerciantes e industriales guayaquileos.
La burguesi comercial y bancaria de Guayaquil logr un control sobre el conjunto de la economia
nacional. Entonces, liderando una amplia y heterognea alianza de diversos grupos sociales, se lanz a la
conquista del poder politic.
(capitallabour relation rather than the use of forced labour) and the accom-
panying expansion of the agricultural frontier in the hitherto only sparsely
populated and utilized humid coastal region redened the geography of
Ecuador and shaped political ecological conditions for the years to come. The
Guayaquileo elites, now in control of both the local and the national state and
closely allied with international merchant (cocoa) capital, generated an uncon-
tested urban growth coalition geared towards securing and promoting their
personal, and hence the citys, interests. Indeed, the expansion and restructur-
ing of the city acted as a catalyst for rent and prot appropriation and for the
launch of a struggle by the new elites to command the heights of the national
The Liberal Revolution . . . began to use part of its income for nancing infrastructure,
public buildings, etc., and the construction industry accelerated relatively the absorp-
tion of the labour force . . . It is not industrialization that resulted in the concentration
of population in this growth pole [Guayaquil] . . . but fundamentally the develop-
ment of commercial, construction, and service activities. (del Campo 1980: 370) (my
From this time onwards, the urbanization of Guayaquil becomes the history
of the conicts and interests of the urban ruling elites, the alliances that are
forged and broken down, and the struggle of this group to control the national
state. The fortunes of the urban elite are an integral part of the relationship
between the further ecological conquest and natures transformation in the
countryside on one hand, and the position of the urbanized elites in the
increasingly globally organized circulation of money and capital on the other.
What Michael Johns suggests for elite formation in Buenos Aires also holds for
[Its] ruling elite [is] evidently provincial, though eminently cosmopolitan. This rentier
class was sustained by agrarian and urban rents, the prot of merchants capital, the
interest earned on credit and earnings on speculative ventures. [They] were dependent
on Western Europe for capital, markets and industrial commodities, as well as style,
taste and ideas. The rulers . . . lavished much of their extraordinary wealth on a cos-
mopolitan style of consumption designed to imitate, if not outdo, the elite of Paris and
London. (Johns 1993: 75)
Or, indeed, those of Guayaquil as suggested by Martinezs quote at the begin-
ning of this chapter (see also Wolf 1892; Enock 1914).
The new urban bourgeoisie forged a growth coalition, which began the
process of rapid urban development through the accumulation, investment,
and consumption of the rents and riches from cocoa production (Carrin
1986; del Campo 1980: 370). The form, ideology, and aesthetics of this new
88 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
La Revolucin Liberal . . . comienza a utilizar parte de sus ingresos en infraestructura, edicios pub-
licos, etc., y el sector de la construccin dinamiza relativamente la absorbcin de mano de obra . . . De
forma que no es la industrializacin la que concentra poblacin en este polo de crecimiento . . . sino el
desarrollo de actividades de comercio, construccin y servicios, fundamentalmente.
urbanization process were characterized by a dismissal of past forms and ma-
terials, the introduction of progressive European ideas and the secularization
of urban life, disseminated by the many immigrants and the new Ecuadorean
bourgeoisie who had picked up these modernist ideas on their many travels to
the old continent. Immigrants, mainly from Italy, Spain, Germany, and
Britain, made up 10% of the population by 1910. In addition to investments in
urban sanitation projects, roads, public buildings, parks, and monuments, the
development of the QuitoGuayaquil and local railroad lines were major
achievements of the citys ruling growth coalition (Rodrguez 1987). This
reconguration of class relations resulted in a series of contradictions, which
were contained, among other ways, by public sector organization of urban ser-
vices and infrastructure. The beautication of the city centre became a prime
objective for the bourgeoisie, as the urban proletarianization process began to
threaten both their aesthetic and physical sanitary well-being. The Eurocentric
upper classes transposed the principles they found on their regular trips to
Paris and London to their own urban environments:
The public works in the city responded to two different demands: one that prioritized
the sanitation of the city (potable water, canalization, landll, etc. . . .); and the other
that required the embellishment of the port city for the celebration of the Centenary of
Independence. (Rojas and Villavicencio 1988: 85) (my translation)
Moreover, the increasing demand for wage workers in the urban economy
created the need for low reproduction costs and relative social peace. The rst
working-class organizations arose alongside the development of the bour-
geoisie. The carpenters society, for example, was founded in 1896 and went on
strike the same year to demand a 9-hour working day. In 1907, a major strike
by the railroad workers paralysed the city (Allou 1987: 28). The provision of
low cost collective consumption infrastructure (housing, transportation,
schooling, urban services) tted the double purpose of suppressing both the
wage bill and social stress, while turning Guayaquil into an exemplary city in
terms of aesthetic and sanitary ecological conditions. In addition, the collec-
tive nature of such necessary infrastructure and the often externalized returns
of such services pointed to the state as the preferred body to initiate, organize,
and control such ventures. As the majority of the people were excluded from
the political decision-making process anyway, the state was able to take a class-
biased position, which permitted and perpetuated bourgeois control over the
states institutions. Urban engineering and construction works were initiated
within this framework, with water production and distribution, combined with
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 89
The relationship between the rise of the Guayaquileo bourgeoisie and the changing city architec-
ture and accompanying aesthetic views is detailed in Sophie Bocks excellent study (1988). (See also
Godard 1988.) For a similar study of Buenos Aires, see Johns (1992; 1993).
Las obras publicas de la ciudad responden a dos demandas diferenciadas: la una, que priorizaba el
saneamiento de la ciudad (agua potable, canalizacin, relleno, etc.); y la otra, que exigia el embellec-
imiento y ornato del puerto con miras a la celebracin del Centenario de la Independencia.
a late attention to sewerage, as key priorities. Around the turn of the century,
the urbanization and domestication of water in Guayaquil kept pace with the
accelerating urbanization of capital. The very history of the mastering and
domestication of water to supply the urban realm narrates this story of chang-
ing urban social positions and the emergence of new urban conicts.
As the city expanded (see Table 4.1), however, sanitary and physical condi-
tions deteriorated. Eloy Alfaro, uncontested leader of the liberal revolution
and President of Ecuador, decided to create the Junta de Canalizacin de
Guayaquil. In 1900, he declared the urban water project and other sanitary
infrastructure as works of national importance to be nanced largely by the
national state on the basis of taxes levied on the cocoa trade. In 1905, another
special cocoa-export tax was levied to nance the sanitation works as well
as other major infrastructure projects such as the riverside promenade
(Malcon), the central park, the transportation system, public ofces, and
buildings. Between that time and the 1920s, the water system was gradually
extended, slowly following the pattern of urbanization, which nevertheless
increasingly began to outpace the expansion of the system. Indeed, the basic
system put in place at the start of the century (supplying on average 2,500 cubic
metres per day) would remain the citys main source of water (of questionable
quality) until 1928 (Acevedo 1938; Manrique 1940). Nevertheless, the domes-
tication of water in Guayaquil had outpaced the sanitation of many European
towns of a similar size, some of which did not have the equivalent facilities until
well into the twentieth century (Goubert 1989).
From the early years of the water system, charges were differentiated on the
basis of activities within a building and estimated water consumption. Water
use was not metered, but instead the diameter of the water pipe (1 unit = 1/8)
served as the main accounting unit. In general, commercial activities were
charged more than private houses or ofces, while industrial activities had to
pay the most (indicating the particular form of elite coalition who accumulated
money through rent and interest extraction rather than through production).
Indeed, commercial or related activities paid considerably less than industrial
activities even if the former used huge quantities of water. A form of progres-
sive pricing policy was introduced as people in rented accommodation paid less
for their water than homeowners. Public institutions (ofces, hospitals,
schools, etc.) received water free of charge.
However, while for the upper classes Guayaquil prospered during this period
and revelled in its new leadership role (Martinez 1988), the seeds of the subse-
quent disintegration soon germinated. In fact, from the second decade of the
twentieth century onwards, the moment when population growth outstripped
the expansion of the water network and the hegemonic power of the local elites
began to show its rst internal fractures, private water vending again became
an accepted part of daily life. From this point onwards, the excluded will con-
stantly suffer the difcult daily quest for water. However, this also marks the
90 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
beginning of the private water sellers buying water from the public utility for
distribution and sale in areas that lacked basic water infrastructure. The of-
cially charged price to water vendors was very low, permitting them a quite
considerable extraction of monopoly rents.
Faced with a growing gap between supply and demand, the municipality
proposed and contracted work to increase the water production and water con-
duction capacity from the Agua Clara source to 13,000m/day, sufcient to
provide a city of 150,000 inhabitants with an average of 100 litres per person
per day (Gaceta Municipal, November 1910: 167; 21 February 1911). However,
a local inspection team visiting the catchment site in 1916 reported a physical
water loss of 50%, and the pipeline to Guayaquil showed serious problems and
damage (Gaceta Municipal, 20 March 1916). Both the municipality and the
Junta de Canalizacin y Proveedora de Agua acted as contractors for the
French consultant engineer E. Coignet. This dual contracting suggests that
both institutions were formally independent bodies. The interest on and repay-
ment of the loans raised to cover project costs were paid by a combination of
local land taxes, the sale of water, and taxes on imports and cocoa exports. This
mechanism again demonstrates that the nancing of the water urbanization
projects was by no means self-supporting and largely depended on the level and
vitality of the import/export sector and the continuation of an accumulation
process based on cocoa metabolism, and on the extract of land or commercial
rent. It suggests that investment costs could not be recuperated from the sale of
water alone, and therefore indicates a substantial gap between the cost of water
and the price charged to the consumer. Indeed, from the beginning (and until
this very day), the expansion of the water system has been dependent on exter-
nal nancial sources (and, therefore, closely related to the capacity of the
Ecuadorean economy to generate foreign currency via export promotion), and
operational costs have depended on a combination of loans and subsidies (see
Chapter 6). Of course, this highly subsidized water supply system suppressed
the cost to the consumer, thereby satisfying the demands of both poor and rich
for low-cost access to potable water.
Despite these efforts, Pineo (1996: 103) reports that Guayaquil in 1921
received only a fth of its required water supplies. As one observer put it:
Guayaquil, surrounded by water, nevertheless nds itself short (cited in Pineo
1996: 103). In any case, the city, at least partially washed with water streaming
through its veins, cleansing its burghers, and portraying an image of health,
beauty, and prosperity, faced its rst major water crisis towards the end of the
rst decade of this century. The commodication and urbanization of water,
however partial it may have been, nevertheless gave water an increasingly
prominent place in maintaining the social fabric of urban life. The city had
grown on the basis of an ecological conquest and appropriation of the rents
from agricultural produce. This was paralleled by the harnessing and urban-
ization of water, thereby inserting the circulation of water squarely into the
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 91
circulation of money and its associated power relations and class differentia-
tions. Yet while the city could no longer survive without being perpetually
washed with an incessant ow of water, the expansion of centralized water pro-
vision began to slow down at a time when the city itself expanded.
4.1.2 Moving the water frontier and the emergence of exclusionary
water practices in an age of reformation
It soon became evident that the current catchment would not be sufcient to
guarantee a sufcient supply of water to match the pace of the water urbaniza-
tion process. In 1924, for example, the city received water for only two to three
hours a day, usually between 6.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. (Manrique 1940). Never-
theless, the Agua Clara river remained the citys main source of water (of ques-
tionable quality) until 1928 (Acevedo 1938). If the domestication of water were
to continue to follow the expansion of the urban frontier, the water frontier
needed to be pushed outward in search of new exploitable water reserves. The
growth and expansion of the city could only be sustained by pushing First
Natures frontier further outwards and by incorporating ever larger parts of
natures geography into the circulation of money and prot upon which the
citys continuing prominence depended so crucially.
As early as 1916, the London-based J. G. White & Co. presented a plan for
the provision of water to Guayaquil from the Eastern Andes cordillera (about
88km away from the city centre), as well as a sewerage system. This proposal
would have increased the capacity of the existing system to 20,000m/day for a
population of 117,000 inhabitants by 1926. At that time, the system would
need to be upgraded to produce 30,000m/day, which should be sufcient until
1936, after which the capacity would need to be increased to 40,000m/day. On
5 January 1919, the national government contracted the J. G. White company
to implement the proposed water supply system, and a few months later the
local authorities took over the contract from the national government. In 1923,
the Junta Especial de Saniamiento was created to execute public works of
canalization, potable water provision, sewerage, and road works. The Junta
was nanced by local taxes, which were nationally collected and then devolved
to the local authority. The White company continued with its works while the
government allowed the municipality to contract (foreign) loans to nance the
As a result of this, a new production and conduction system, known as La
Lolita, was inaugurated in 1928 with a capacity of 20,000m/day destined for
Guayaquil and the surrounding region (see inset A on Fig. 3.4). From then
until about 1932, the city enjoyed a 24-hour supply of water, a unique achieve-
ment in the context of Latin America and something the city would never be
able to accomplish again. In 1933, when the city had 117,000 inhabitants and
almost 8,000 dwellings, the average daily supply of water was 170 litres per
person per day. From that time onwards, water was charged on the basis of
92 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
either metered water consumption or on the basis of cadastral evaluation of
the property (Ordenanza sobre Agua Potable 1933). Not surprisingly, this was
also the period in which yellow fever virtually disappeared from the urban
scene. The early efforts of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1919 had been instru-
mental in achieving this (Gonzlez 1988; Pineo 1990).
However, this successful watering of the city was short lived. Very soon
thereafter, the water urbanization process slowed down dramatically, as politi-
cal power relationships began to shift in decisive new ways, particularly after
the crumbling of the cocoa economy. Indeed, by the end of the 1930s the highly
successful and hegemonic bourgeois growth coalition that had launched
Guayaquil on the path of dependent modernization (while the Sierra had rela-
tively stagnated) had dwindled. The high rents from the cocoa economy had
put the cacaoteros in a position that did not tolerate challenge, both locally and
nationally, while the continuous success of the rentier export economy pre-
vented internal differentiation, as there was no need to explore new ways of
accumulating money. Nevertheless, the cocoa boom began to collapse at the
beginning of the 1920s, and would eventually plunge Ecuadorean society into
a great economic and political crisis. This collapse also produced the rst
cracks in the elite alliance of cocoa producers, merchants, and nanciers.
Between 1917 and 1926, for example, cocoa output fell by 45% from 1,008,000
quintals to just 447,000 (Bock 1988: 60; see also Crawford de Roberts 1980).
The socio-ecological opening up of Africa for cocoa production for the world
market, the phyto-sanitary problems resulting from monocultural practices,
and the dwindling European demand for cocoa during the First World War
had a negative impact on prices, productivity, and production. Between Janu-
ary and September 1914 alone, cocoa prices on the world market fell by 50%
(Martinez 1988: 19). The breakdown of the global economy after the war fur-
ther eroded prices, with the cocoa price on the New York commodities
exchange plummeting from 25.75 dollar cents per pound to 5.75 dollar cents
between March 1920 and June 1921. By 1921, the amount of cocoa export rev-
enues had fallen by 21% compared with those in 1917. As prices fell, foreign
currency became scarce and capital for domestic investment began to dry up.
The subsequent dollar shortage hiked up the price of the dollar and cocoa
exporters were able to recapture some of the lost ground as a result of the
increasing exchange rate (from 2.11 sucres to the US dollar in 1920 to an aver-
age of 4.2 in 1922 and 6.2 in 1923). This, in turn, put the import sector into seri-
ous difculties and resulted in monetary chaos (Marchn 1988; 1991). In 1923,
the price for cocoa on the world market hit rock bottom and was only half of
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 93
Indeed, the annihilation of space by time had brought the US much nearer to the lethal diseases of
the Latin American subcontinent. Merchant ships from Ecuador and other places not only brought agri-
cultural produce to the US market, but diseases and their vectors as well. Yellow fever appeared in North
America. Eradicating the disease implied sanitizing the coastal areas and, in particular, the port cities.
The Rockefeller foundation initiated and completed an eradication programme in Guayaquil with great
its value between 1900 and 1913 (Pineo 1996). Moreover, the Ecuadorean
cocoa harvest declined signicantly between 1923 and 1924 and not only as a
result of falling world prices. The monocultural cocoa plantations were badly
maintained as copious harvests, high cocoa prices, and abundant cheap labour
militated against the need for sophisticated phyto-sanitary intervention, and
were thus highly susceptible to the spread of diseases. Two major blights hit the
cocoa elds: an epidemic of Monilia fungus in 1914, and witchbroom disease
in 1922. In no time at all, previously healthy trees were turned into dry and dead
sticks, and in some places, almost all the trees died within a year (Pineo 1996:
145). The combined result was a massive reduction in export earnings for
Ecuador and this rapidly translated into decreases in public revenues for
public nances (Rodrguez 1984: 175), which hit Guayaquil and urban invest-
ments particularly hard. Ecuador had borrowed heavily against the future
during the years of the cocoa boom, betting on continued expansion of pro-
duction, growing export sales and high prices (Marchn 1988).
The stuttering urbanization of water during this period was related to and
expressive of uctuations on the New York commodities exchange market, the
vagaries of the international monetary system, and changing socio-ecological
processes (disease-ridden cocoa plantations) in the coastal region around
Guayaquil. Disease, commodity prices, the expansion of Africas cocoa pro-
duction, and the contradictions of public and international nance fused
together in a myriad of intricate ways to produce an urban crisis that would
quickly sharpen social tensions and accentuate the already problematic socio-
ecological conditions in the city. The rapid downturn of the cocoa economy
which at its height had prevented other capital factions from rising to the
challenge of the cacaoteros in any serious wayleft a vacuum which could not
easily be lled. Consequently, the hegemony of the bourgeoisie was increas-
ingly challenged from within as the crumbling of the cocoa boom increased
tensions between the various local elite rentier factions. For example, in
191718, a few members of the import bourgeoisie founded the Banco la Pre-
visora, which would focus its activities on real estate credit and became part of
a nascent alliance of real estate developers and the construction industry
(Guerrero 1980: 197). Until that time, the leading bank had been the Banco
Comercial y Agrcola, which had close ties to the cocoa bourgeoisie (Estrada
1982; Dillon 1985; Chiriboga 1988).
In light of diminishing accumulation opportunities in the cocoa business,
some factions of capital turned to other sectors of the economy. Recycling
capital through the built environment became one of the preferred niches for
prot making. This was a rst challenge to the hegemony of the comprador
bourgeoisie and an attempt to secure the survival of the ruling elites and the
position of the city. The limited internal buying capacity of the masses, how-
ever, ruled out the possibility of an upturn on the basis of an emergent national
bourgeoisie. This rst crack in the urban hegemony was soon followed by other
94 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
strategies that were deployed by elite factions in order to maintain their erod-
ing position. Urban landowners, for example, subdivided inner-city houses
and rented them to the large numbers of immigrants (tugurizacin) in a des-
perate attempt to maintain the accumulation process (Rojas and Villavicencio
1988) by shifting capital into other circuits of circulation (Harvey 1985). Immi-
gration accelerated rapidly as the disintegrating rural cocoa economy shed
large numbers of workers who ocked to the city in search of survival and jobs.
In addition, internal cohesion was further undermined when the nancial elites
de-linked the sucre from the gold standard in 1914, resulting in ination and
devaluation of the local currency and negatively affecting the position of the
importers (Marchn 1991). The cocoa producers, the weakest link in the
alliance anyway, were almost completely destroyed by the collapse of the
market. In short, the diverse factions that comprised the urban bourgeoisie
began to pursue their own specic interests (housing, land development, or
nancial speculation) in a desperate attempt to displace immanent devaluation
pressures onto other groups and to safeguard their own position. The earlier
growth coalition broke down and became rife with internal tensions and con-
ict. In addition, the Sierra landowners, together with the textile industrialists
as the Sierras main manufacturing sector, seized the opportunity and began to
challenge Guayaquileo control over the central state apparatus (Cueva 1974;
1991; Quintero 1980).
The hegemony of the Guayaquileo bourgeoisie was also challenged by the
emergence of a local petty bourgeoisie and the growing militancy of organized
labour. As early as 1905, the Confederacin Obrera Provincial de Guayas had
been formed as a regional umbrella labour organization, and the rst exclu-
sively wage workers-based union was established in the city (Sociedad
Cosmopolita de Cacahueros Toms Briones) in 1908. The latter declared a
strike in that year and again in 1916. After years of economic decline and grow-
ing austerity, a citywide general strikethe rst major attempt at organized
labour strugglewas launched in November 1922, and paralysed the city com-
pletely for days. The waterworks were closed down and the city virtually died of
thirst. On the orders of the state, the strike was nally brutally and bloodily
repressed by the army (Robelino 1976; Martinez 1988), ending with several
hundred butchered corpses oating down the Guayas River (Muos Vicua
1978; Pineo 1988).
With the end of the cocoa boom and the intense social struggle and turmoil
associated with the ensuing socio-economic disintegration, a new regional shift
in political power started to emerge:
From now onwards, Guayaquil gave ground as the principal urban centre of the coun-
try. Its promoters, now in a process of decline and decadence, did not succeed in
overcoming the challenge posed by the cocoa crisis, and in establishing its domination
on a new basis. They gradually disintegrated as the dominant class. In 1925,
progressive members of the military took power and, in 1933, a new alliance of
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 95
landowners gave national power to the populist leader Velasco Ibarro. (Allou 1987: 29)
(my translation)'
Indeed, the Revolucin Juliana of 1925 effectively ended the Guayaquileo
elites control over the state apparatus. The political centre of gravity shifted
increasingly (but not exclusively) in favour of Quito and the Sierra highlands as
the Sierra landowners reclaimed some of their weakened inuence (Godard
1987: 113; Marchn 1991: 48). Since that time, Ecuador has never again ex-
perienced hegemonic elite control comparable to the one existing during the
era of the cocoa boom. As Maiguashca and North (1991) pointed out, the
socio-spatial diversication of both agricultural and manufacturing produc-
tion contributed to ongoing factional struggles between Costa and Sierra as
well as between their internally divided ruling classes:
The different regional and sectoral fractions of the dominant classes succeeded in form-
ing a temporary alliance, but this did not generate the establishment of political and
social hegemony by the Sierra landowning class in the medium and long term. To begin
with, they were incapable of subordinating, or leading, the economic elites of the other
regions. These regional and other struggles within the dominant class were reected in
the political instability of the 1930s and 1940s. (Maiguashca and North 1991: 109) (my
The subsequent period was indeed characterized by political instability. No
fewer than seventeen governments succeeded each other during the 1930s,
exemplifying the continuous battle between Sierra and Costa and their respec-
tive class factions (Deler 1981; Hurtado 1985; Cueva 1991). This factional
struggle and instability further eroded cohesion in civil society and, not sur-
prisingly, resulted in growing calls for federalism and regional independence.
Particularly in Guayaquil, the weakened bourgeoisie considered regional inde-
pendence and the construction of a new regionalized state to be a means for
restoring some of its lost hegemonic position over the national state (Quintero
and Silva 1991). In 1933, Velasquez Ibarra won the elections (something he
would repeat four more times), announcing the beginning of Ecuadors subse-
quent populist tradition'` (Egas 1992; Menendez-Carrin 1986). In fact, the
rise and consolidation of populism as a key political movementinterspersed
with military juntas backed by a rivalling diversity of upper-class support
96 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
' De hecho, en ese entonces, Guayaquil ceda terreno como principal foco urbano del pas. Sus pro-
motores, en proceso de decadencia, no lograran superar el desafo prensentado por la crisis cacotera,
asentado su dominacin sobre nuevas bases, y paulatinamente se desmorornaron como clase dominante.
En 1925 militares progressistas se hicieron con el poder y en 1933 una nueva alianza de terratenientes
llev al lder populista Velasco Ibarra el cargo supremo.
'' Las diferentes fracciones regionales y sectoriales de las clases dominantes lograron formar una
alianza momentnea; pero esto no gener el establecimiento de la hegemona politica y social de los ter-
ratenientes serranos a mediano y largo plazo. Para empezar, fueron encapaces de subordinar, o liderar, a
las lites econmicas de las otras regiones. Estas luchas regionales y de otro typo, occuridas dentro de la
clase dominante, se reejaron en la inestabilidad poltica de los aos treinta y cuarenta.
'` This tradition became particularly deeply entrenched in Guayaquil and found a strong popular basis
in the invasion settlements (Quintero 1991).
exemplied the absence of a hegemonic elite bloc in power and suggests how a
diverse set of class and power interests fused around a populist ideology as the
means to secure a minimum of social coherence and stability. Combined with
a more regionalist outlook from at least some factions of the bourgeoisie,
whose interests were often deeply localized and provincial, the subsequent
geopolitical dynamics led to more complex and tenuous relationships between
the national and local state (Maiguashca 1991; see also Quintero 1991).
Clearly, declining cocoa rents played a decisive role in the political weaken-
ing of the local elites. Combined with the shifting socio-spatial class relation-
ships, which broke the alliance between the national and local state, the
weakened Guayaquileo elite found itself on a more confrontational course
with the national state. Moreover, during the period of liberal hegemony, taxes,
mainly from coastal exports, were going to the national state and were chan-
nelled back to Guayaquil by the coastal elites that controlled the state. How-
ever, as their control over the national state weakened, nationally appropriated
cocoa rents earmarked to nance sanitary and beautication works in
Guayaquil were increasingly diverted to other purposes and places.
The loss of power for Guayaquils ruling classes was paralleled by a slow-
down of the water urbanization process. The capital earmarked for extending
and upgrading the system was never made available, despite desperate appeals
by the local government to the national state and the many promises made by
the state to assist Guayaquils investment programmes (Revista Municipal
1936: 52). A 1943 memorandum of the cantonal Council of Guayaquil to the
National Congress details the history of appropriation and allocation of cocoa
rents (Revista Municipal 1943). In 1923, the National Accounting Tribunal
(Tribunal de Cuentas) certied that of a total of 32 million sucres of cocoa
rents collected between 1899 and 1923 and destined to nance sanitation works
in Guayaquil, only 4 million were actually spent. In 1923 a new provincial
Junta Especial de Saneamiento was established and undertook to sanitize the
city further. The National Congress budgeted an annual amount of 3 million
sucres for that purpose. In the subsequent years, 6 million sucres was spent on
improving the water supply system. In 1926, J. G. White & Co. delivered plans
for road and sewerage works to the Junta de Saneamiento. In 1927, however,
the government replaced the provincial Junta de Saneamiento with a nation-
ally appointed Jefe de Fiscalizacin to oversee the works. The contract with
the J. G. White & Co. was taken over by the State and eventually rescinded,
leaving the sanitation works unnished, and showing how the geopolitics of
the country change to the detriment of Guayaquil. With the disappearance of
the Junta de Saneamiento, the city lost the power to control its own economic
resources and the capacity to invest these in local infrastructure. The ten mil-
lion sucres available in the national Caja Fiscal for urban sanitation projects
in Guayaquil was spent on other projects by the reformist dictatorial and revo-
lutionary juntas of that time. After the liquidation of the J. G. White & Co. con-
tract, a satellite within the Ministry of Public Works was established under the
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 97
heading of Saneamiento de Guayaquil, which controlled an annual budget of
600,000 to 800,000 sucres. Until 1943, the money was spent mostly on public
works throughout the country, with precious little going to improve water and
sewerage infrastructure in Guayaquil. In 1929, the National Assembly autho-
rized the Executive Power to borrow the equivalent of US$2 million for the
implementation of sanitary works in Guayaquil, although it was not until four-
teen years later, in 1943, that the Cantonal Council demanded the execution of
the decree. In sum, between 1899 and 1943, the national state received a total of
86 million sucres from Guayaquils cocoa rents, while only 16 million was actu-
ally spent on the waterworks, mainly in the period before 1923. The total
national debt to the city was estimated at 76 million sucres (Revista Municipal
1948). After 1923, the moment at which political power at the national level
was recaptured by highland elites, few if any of the commitments made by the
national state with respect to the sanitation of Guayaquil were actually hon-
oured. This struggle over the allocation of and control over investment funds
generated through cocoa rents encapsulates the changing spatial and social
class composition of the local and national elites and the reconguration of
socio-spatial power geometries.
4.3 Water, war, and thirst in the 1940s:
the selective urbanization of water
In the meantime, the city had experienced rapid growth, with the population
increasing by 182% between 1925 and 1950. This led to the development of the
rst invasion settlements, mainly in Suburbio, whilst the development of the
infrastructure stagnated. As Godard (1987: 113) concludes his discussion of
It seems that the migratory movements to Guayaquil are inversely related to the real-
ization of infrastructure works, among others because of the economic difculties the
country encountered from 1925 until 1950. (my translation)'
The collapse of cocoa-based rural-class relations affected both urban and
rural conditions. In the coastal countryside, the large cocoa plantations dimin-
ished signicantly resulting in a partial exodus of the displaced rural prole-
tariat, which fed rapid urban immigration and constituted the kernel of a
growing urban underclass. Agricultural production on the Costa became more
diversied, with rice, coffee, bananas, and sugar being cultivated on small and
medium-sized farms formed out of subdivided plantations. Migrating peas-
ants could occupy uncultivated plots of land that previously had been owned
98 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
' Parece que los movimientos migratorios hacia Guayaquil son inversamente proporcionales a la real-
izacin de infraestructuras, entre otras razones, por las dicultades econnomicas que el pas atraviesa de
1925 a 1950.
by the terratenientes (large landowners). The decline of the cocoa-based
coastal liberal hegemony opened a window of opportunity for the relative
prosperity of smallholders, who developed a diversied agricultural ecological
system, which was nevertheless embedded in a money-based market economy.
This period proved to be rather positive for peasants and smallholdings and
altered the political ecology of the countryside, while the city began to stagnate
economically as its parasitic unity with agricultural export production
Charles Nurse (1989: 101) summarized this socio-ecological urbanrural
transformation process as follows:
With the collapse of the cocoa boom came the abandonment of many of the spectacu-
lar public works projects undertaken in the years of plenty. Also abandoned were many
of the plantations themselves, with the owners acquiescing in their takeover by the
former plantation workers at low rents or rent-free.
Needless to say, the urban water ows were to become thinner, more unreli-
able, and eventually grossly insufcient as the circulation of money not only
dwindled, but was increasingly diverted to other purposes and recycled
through other political congurations (the state) and actors. From 1932
onwards, water supply became gradually more problematic, falling from an
average of 20 hours a day in that year to an average of 14 hours in 1938. Water
needed to be stored in receptacles of all kinds in order to ensure a 24-hour sup-
ply of water (Revista Municipal, 1 February 1938: 3941). Despite several
attempts, the two planned expansions to La Lolita were never implemented,
while suggestions to construct a second treatment plant on the Daule River
(the site of the current treatment plants) also failed to materialize (Revista
Municipal 1938: 3941). In 1936, a technical commission reported that the
system was in need of urgent technical repairs and that it had suffered damage
and water losses as a result of illegal connections and spillage (Revista Munici-
pal, July and August 1936: 2930, 52). In 1939, the Revista Municipal noted
that the quantity of water produced remained at the 1928 level, although the
number of urban residents had almost doubled to about 200,000 inhabitants.
The nances for extending the system would never come forward despite the
desperate appeals of the local government to the state for money, and the plant
of La Lolita, with its average daily production capacity of 21,000m,
remained the sole source for the citys potable water (Revista Municipal 1936:
52). Moreover, the system also supplied water to the towns and villages adja-
cent to the main conduction pipe from La Lolita to the city centre, so that by
1944, not more than 10,000m per day actually reached the city for further dis-
tribution (Olaya and Villavicencio 1990). This single water-sourcing system
remained in place until 1951, and average daily per capita production dropped
from about 180 litres in 1930 to less than 100 litres in 1945.
The citys growth was characterized by inner-city densication (tugur-
izacin) and the emergence of the rst land invasions, mainly in the tidally
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 99
inundated mangrove forests of the Guayas estuary (Godard 1988). Ironically,
this was municipally owned land that had been bought from a local bank in the
1880s in order to secure a loan for the nancing of Guayaquils rst waterworks
(see above). The slowdown in infrastructure provision also resulted in the reap-
pearance of slums and a growing number of private water vendors, accompa-
nied by monopoly and exclusionary water practices. The intermittent ow of
water, and the difculties associated with accessing it, increased the danger of
contamination, and bacteriological pollution became again a serious threat. In
1938, for example, new cases of yellow fever were reported (Revista Municipal
1938: 3941).
During the Second World War, conditions deteriorated even further. By
1943, the potable water service in the city had diminished to 11 hours a day,
falling further to 67 hours in 1946. At that time, La Lolita produced 20,000
to 30,000m of potable water each day, with crude water supplied by the Agua
Clara, Alvarado, Blanco, and Mayagun rivers owing down from the Western
Andes cordillero. Two pipes of 11 and 22 diameter respectively transported
the water to Duran (Eloy Alfaro) on the eastern shore of the Guayas River, just
across from Guayaquil city. From there, water owed through sub-uvial pipes
to two reservoirs on top of the Santa Ana hill. The urban distribution system
covered the old, densely populated, centre of the city and with the exception of
a few new connections in four more streets in 1946/47, the 1929 distribution
network had not been extended. In 1946, only 8,600 dwellings enjoyed the
luxury of indoor water, mostly without meters (Buck, Seifert, and Just, Con-
sulting Engineers 1947). While the existence of connections did not in any way
suggest the availability of water, there were still more than 110,000 people (55%
of the population) who had to make do without any domestic water supply at
all (based on a generously estimated average of ten persons per household). An
estimated 47.5% of the water was lost through leakage and physical damage in
the system (Villavicencio 1992). Those deprived of water lived mainly in the
new suburban invaded expansions in the West and Southwest.
The socio-spatially stratied water supply was also locked into the water-
engineering system itself. Each of the reservoirs on the Santa Ana hill covered
part of the system independently. No bypass system existed, which led to regu-
lar interruptions in water distribution each time the reservoir or its mains
needed repair or maintenance. The network was organized as a herringbone
system (see Fig. 3.4), and water pressure fell rapidly as the water moved away
from the reservoir. Close to the feeding station the water supply was fairly regu-
lar and of reasonable quality, whereas further down the network, pressure
fell and water availability and quality deteriorated quickly until at the margins
of the system only a trickle of smelly water remained. The water network
corresponded closely to the geography of urban land rents, which were, in turn,
reinforced through the spatial inequality organized in and through the techno-
logical and engineering structure of the water system. The social geography of
the city mirrored the structure of the water network and the level and quality of
100 Water in Guayaquil, 18801945
water delivery. The urban water crisis was spreading rapidly, threatening the
very sustainability of the city. Private water vending (particularly in areas
deprived of piped water) was common and continued to increase both in num-
bers and in volume as the water crisis intensied during the subsequent
These exclusionary urban water politics, which shaped the wartime and early
post-war geography of the city, were institutionally organized through a
municipal public water utility controlled by the Departamento de Agua
Potable. The water price was set far below real cost, which resulted in the
middle and upper classes receiving highly subsidized water, and the poor
being deprived of it entirely. The resulting structural nancial decit jeopar-
dized the maintenance and upgrading of the urban water system and made
water-engineering works structurally dependent on nancing by means of
dwindling agricultural exports.
The political ecology of water production and supply was the outcome of
the continuing quest to urbanize water in a context of growing supply problems
and increasingly polarized water politics. This process of water urbanization
led to an acute water crisis by the end of the forties, after which water problems
would never disappear again. On the contrary, exclusionary water politics and
water speculation by water vendors increasingly came to characterize urban
struggles and became an integral part of the rituals of everyday urban life. In
short, from the very beginning, the urbanization of water became subject to
intense social struggles as the dialectic of exclusion from and access to com-
modied urban services unfolded. The perpetual budgetary problems of the
state, controlled by an externally oriented, but increasingly internally divided
and competing bourgeoisie, resulted in domestic underinvestment combined
with a chronic dependence on external funds. The respect that visitors had
showed for the citys sanitary conditions during the mid-thirties was now
merely a reminder of the past glory of the city elite (Desmarest 1937: 54).
Water in Guayaquil, 18801945 101
The Urban Conquest of Water in
Guayaquil, 19452000:
Bananas, Oil, and the Production
of Water Scarcity
Agua, Drama sin Final (local newspaper headline).
5.1 Opening up a new waterfront: water and bananas
With the end of the war came a partial reversal of the devastating decline asso-
ciated with the cocoa collapse, paralleled by a profound reconguration of
class relations. The pre-war bipartisan political structure (Liberals and Con-
servatives) was replaced by a myriad of new political parties, expressing the
divisions within the ruling elites, the rise of Left political parties as a result of
growing proletarianization (Maiguashca 1992: 2001) and, most importantly,
the emergence and spectacular growth of populist movements. New forms of
class struggle would emerge out of this maelstrom of change, each expressing
itself through a mixture of new and old languages, symbols, and activities. It is
not surprising, for example, to hear San Lenn called upon for assistance
alongside saints of the more traditional variety (Maiguashca and North 1991:
99100). The ferment of this rich mix of class relations through which daily life
was organized at the time the world was on re wrought the conditions from
which the post-war intensied water conquest would emerge.
Indeed, the turbulent but lean years of the 1940s were followed by the
banana bonanza decade of the 1950s. The United States fruit corporations,
their plantations struck by Panama disease, moved their centre of operations
from marginal Central American and Caribbean exporters to Ecuador. It was
not only a cheap location, but the Panama disease had not yet moved that far
south. In addition, President Galo Plaza Lasso used his excellent relationships
with the US United Fruit Company to promote banana production in Ecuador
(Nurse 1989). The spiralling demand for bananas from the US fruit companies
converted the coastal area of the country (La Costa) into large banana planta-
tions with their associated socio-ecological relations (Armstrong and McGee
1985: 114; Larrea-Maldonado 1982: 2834; see also Schodt 1987). While in
1948, banana export receipts amounted to only US$2.8 million, this gure
reached US$21.4 million in 1952 and US$88.9 million in 1960, accounting for
62.2% of Ecuadors total exports (Hurtado 1981: 190; Grijalva 1990; Cortez
1992). By the mid-1950s, the country had become the worlds leading banana
exporter. This manufactured banana bonanza was organized through a new
political economic and ecological transformation. Not only were bananas cul-
tivated on the former cocoa elds or on land that had been abandoned by cocoa
producers and occupied by smallholders, the ecological frontier for agricultural
export production around Guayaquil was pushed further outward, assisted by
an extensive state-funded road expansion programme (Len 1992; Trujillo
1992). This transformation radically altered the ecology of the urbanrural
complex and incorporated increasingly larger areas into a global money ow.
The general rise in world commodity prices during the early post-war period
also stimulated the export economy. Precarious modes of labour utilization
and control were gradually abandoned through a series of land and legal
reforms. Although production was predominantly organized in smallholdings,
the commercialization was concentrated in very few hands, combining a tiny
national comprador elite with the US fruit-trading companies (Bez 1985).
This banana colonization prompted mass migration to the coastal areas, com-
bined with a rapid urbanization of Guayaquil, whose banana-dependent
nancial and service economy expanded rapidly (Carrin 1992). Between 1950
and 1974, for example, the citys population grew from 200,000 to more than
820,000, mainly in the newly invaded areas of Guasmo and Suburbio. Once
again, the socio-ecological metabolism of Guayaquils hinterland would fuse
with global political dynamics and economic ows.
Banana rents were ploughed backeither directly or indirectly through the
stateinto the urban realm (Bez 1992). The backbone of Guayaquils accel-
erated urbanization process lay within the expanded and reworked ecological
conquest of the coastal region, while the latter was itself directly related to the
expansion of metropolitan and global agro-business capital. This economic
growth improved Ecuadors credit rating and, combined with the efforts of the
newly established international nancing organizations, foreign capital began
to ow into the country once again. However, the agro-export system was or-
ganized and controlled by only a handful of families, preventing the rise of a
broader social elite. The national state remained fairly weak and internally
fractured, while regionalist or populist struggles dominated the political arena,
suggesting a symptomatic absence of a more or less hegemonic national elite
programme (Conaghan and Espinal 1990). However, in line with the rising
prominence of Keynesian forms of state intervention and the limited imitation
of European- or US-style Fordist modes of governing, the state would
become more directly involved in planning and implementing major projects
on the one hand, while the rudiments of an embryonic welfare state system
Water in Guayaquil, 19452000 103
contributed to the emergence of a relatively small but politically signicant
middle class on the other. The peripheral Fordism (Lipietz 1986; 1987) that
emerged reinforced social divisions and formalized divisions between those
that participated fully in civil society and those (mainly indigenous people and
impoverished mestizos) that became ever more excluded. The ne-grained
texture of economic, political, social, and ecological transformations pro-
duced a ferment from which the post-war expansion of the urban water fron-
tier to new and hitherto unexploited water reserves would emerge. Banana
rents were combined with international loans to nance the rapid urbanization
(and peripheral modernization) of the country. It is not surprising, therefore,
that this new ecological conquest was combined with a reinvigorated quest for
the control over and domestication of natures water.
On 31 October 1945, the Municipality of Guayaquil signed an agreement
with the US-based Pitometer Company, the Buck, Seifert and Just Consulting
Engineers (BSJEC), and the Frederick Snare Corporation for the planning,
execution, and supervision of the works for the new potabilization plant for the
city of Guayaquil. Even the geographical geometry of contracted consultant
companies and the sources of nancing reected the shifting geopolitical real-
ities of the post-war world. Whereas European, and mainly British, capital,
engineers and companies, were present before 1940, the tide turned unequivo-
cally towards the US after 1945. The national government, under the presi-
dency of Velasco Ibarra, authorized the Municipality to borrow US$4 million
from the US ExportImport Bank to nance new water and sanitation pro-
jects, and underwrote this loan (Registro Ofcal, no. 147, 8 Jan. 1946). One
year later, a contract with BSJEC was signed to undertake a study Informe
Sobre el Diseo del Proyecto de Abastecimiento de Agua del Rio Daule para
Servir a la Ciudad de Guayaquil, Ecuador (Buck, Seifert, and Just, Consulting
Engineers 1947). The results of this study and the proposal for the project were
handed over to the Municipality in August 1947. The old source for drinking
water for Guayaquil, the River Daule, surfaced again as the next target. As well
as fullling an expanding role as a water source for irrigation projects in the
region, the ow of the Daule was to be diverted, transformed, and commodi-
ed. Banana export earnings, combined with a reverse ow of money from
the US, were welded together with the ow of Daule water to circulate through
the veins of the city, transforming its geographical landscape through the
upgraded circulation of water. This ow, combined with and running through
physical and urban space as a material stream of H
O, represents just one node
in an articulated network of processes operating on a regional, national and,
indeed, worldwide scale: ows of transformed nature, commodities (bananas)
and money, transfers of capital, buying and selling of labour power (see
Merrield 1993). Once more, the city would be transformed and the political
economy of the urbanization process was to be deeply bound up with the
progress of the urbanization of water.
Construction of the new potabilization station La Toma was initiated in
1950, and it became operational in 1951. The station captures water from the
104 Water in Guayaquil, 19452000
Daule river, 26km upstream from Guayaquil. In addition, a new main con-
duction pipe (43) was constructed, which led to a new urban reservoir at Tres
Cerritos in Urdesa, west of the city centre (see Figure 3.2 and 3.4). This main
also serves as a distribution pipe for industries and neighbourhoods located on
its trajectory. La Toma initially had a maximum daily capacity of 75,000m
and was designed to serve a predicted maximum population of 440,000 by 1980
(M. I. Municipio de Guayaquil 1952). Not surprisingly, within a few years the
area around the new reservoir became the middle- and upper-class residential
part of the city. Indeed, formal urban development, feverish land speculation,
and surging land rents closely followed the ow of water. These prime urban
sites, protected from land invasions, were now ripe for development and for
generating signicant urban land rents. The banana boom made money easier
to come by and high-class urban development became a prime source of accu-
mulation for a growing construction industry and real estate market. Indeed,
one way of recycling banana rents was into the promotion and nancing of
urban development and housing projects through the Guayaquileo nancial
system and a mushrooming number of local and international banks (Villavi-
cencio 1990: 33). As such, the emergence of a new strata of land developers,
whose accumulation process was organized through the production of new
urban landscapes and the seizure of rents from land development was predi-
cated upon the extraction of banana rents and their circulation through local,
national, and international processes of capital circulation.
However, the banana bonanza, combined with the modernizing politics of
the national state, had begun to dismantle traditional forms of labour control
and propelled unprecedented numbers of rural to urban migrants, particularly
to Guayaquil. By 1957, the citys population had reached 403,000, with the
result that the new water purication station was operating at its anticipated
full capacity only a few years after its inauguration and the population began
to suffer from major water shortages and water scarcity once again (Olaya and
Villavicencio n.d.). Although the expansion and improvement of the water
supply network in the central and newly developed parts of the city was in itself
no small achievement, problems began to multiply. Moreover, the now rapidly
spreading invasion settlements, which, ironically, were mainly built in the man-
grove estuary and whose construction demanded a detailed division of labour
and quite intricate engineering works to control the tidal ows of marine water,
were never properly serviced. Indeed, as the banana boom drew to an early
close toward the end of the 1950s, the further conquest and urban mastering of
water reached a new impasse.
5.2 The closure of the frontier and the emergence
of an ideology of water scarcity
In the 1950s, a new and more resistant banana variety, the Cavendish,
was developed. This innovation allowed the fruit companies to switch their
Water in Guayaquil, 19452000 105
operations back to the more favourably located Central American locations
that were closer to home, more reliable, and under more direct control of the
US state. This new bio-engineered and phyto-technologically more demanding
Chiquita banana (Len 1992) was heavily commercialized internationally
and undermined the economic position of the traditional Ecuadorean Gros
Michel banana type. Only large Ecuadorean producers who were connected to
international merchants and fruit companies were able to adjust ecologically
and socio-economically to the requirements of the new cultivation, produc-
tion, and marketing techniques. While smaller producers had difculties
coping, output continued to grow, resulting in falling international prices as
world supply suddenly surged rapidly. Moreover, banana diseases had spread
southwards and begun to affect Ecuadorean banana yields (Nurse 1989).
By the early 1960s, the production volume was twice the exported volume.
International merchants could be more selective and demanding. Returns
began to decline or, at least, their growth began to slow down. Total banana
export value fell from US$88.9 million in 1960 to US$51.5 million in 1965,
although it recovered by 1970 (US$94.3 million) (Tobar 1992: 238). This over-
accumulation of bananas wiped out thousands of small- and medium-sized
producers, who joined the ranks of the urban underclass (Bez 1985: 554). This
decline broke the coastal elites partially restored power position once again
and resulted in a partial shift of capital into new areas, in particular the urban
environment through land speculation and development. Ecuadors export
revenues stagnated, resulting in the rapid rise of external debt and forcing the
state to face up to the problem. The state responded with increasing taxation
and, in order to appease the disgruntled export merchant elite, decided
to devalue the currency from 15 to 18 sucre to the US dollar in 1961. The
choreography of unfolding political economic and ecological changes were
strangely familiar to those that had accompanied the cocoa collapse almost
half a century earlier.
The collapse of the banana-based agro-export model caused a signicant
deterioration in the living conditions of the poor and the workers. The elites
might have lost some of their luxuries, but it was the poor who bore the brunt
of the devaluation processes sweeping the country. Social unrest was the
inevitable outcome, particularly in Guayaquil where the consequences were
more acutely felt and where social relations had a more explicit class character
than in the rest of the country. On 2 and 3 June 1959, the people of Guayaquil
took to the streets to protest against the onslaught on their livelihood caused
by the twin processes of national austerity programmes and the international
crisis of the banana industry. As in 1922, this popular revolt ended in carnage:
the army was called in and more than 500 people were killed in the city
(Muoz Vicua and Vicua Izquierdo 1978; Ycaza 1992: 556). In 1961,
another series of similar, although less violent, popular rebellions erupted. The
disarray, in which both the state and the economic elites were increasingly
embroiled, gave rise to the rapid growth of local populist parties and the seizure
106 Water in Guayaquil, 19452000
of power by the military in 1963. Needles to say, this crisis arrested the further
modernization of the city at exactly the time when the urban crisis was becom-
ing more acute.
The social unrest and the rising decit of urban public services forced
the state to seriously consider the problems of collective consumption in the
marginal areas of the city. A new strategy of urban domination became
increasingly apparent, with the spontaneous social mobilizations of the late
fties and early sixties gradually becoming channelled and controlled through
a personalized clientelist urban political system aimed at the partial satis-
faction of popular demand for key services. By now the invasion settlements
were more consolidated and better organized, and represented a growing
popular base for mustering political support. The emergence of neighbour-
hood movements and leaders enabled negotiations to take place between the
local state and the neighbourhoods, which in turn strengthened populist
clientelist relations. Local neighbourhood leaders became key actors in intri-
cate, personal, and dense networks of power and entrenched favouritism that
would characterize urban politics during the subsequent decades. The devel-
opments of the urban water system, which were realized under this regime
were, of course, piecemeal, uneven, ad hoc, and based on personal political
favours (Villavicencio 1988; Menndez-Carrin 1991).
The government had become extremely worried by the continuing problems
of water supply in the city and its potentially dangerous effects on social stabil-
ity and cohesion. Just a few days after the massacre of the protesting masses, on
12 June 1959, the national government created the Junta Cantonal de Agua
Potable de Guayaquil as a formally independent and autonomous organiza-
tion with the remit of providing and administering a plentitude of water pro-
duction and distribution (Registro Ofcial 1959). This new institution replaced
the municipal Departamento de Agua Potable, which had hitherto been in
charge of urbanizing and domesticating natures water. The ofcial policy was
still aiming towards a water supply system providing every urban household
with unlimited quantities of potable water. In fact, upholding such a view as
ofcial served (and still does) to contain a series of increasingly sharp urban
contradictions. First, it appeased those that were hitherto excluded from access
to water by promising a solution in the near future, without necessitating a
commitment to an actual timescale. Second, it did not threaten those who
already enjoyed cheap access to unlimited quantities of water as the question
of equitable distribution was submerged under the rhetoric of a promised
expansion of production capabilities. Third, the piecemeal improvements sug-
gested that clientelist strategies worked and reinforced the hold of both the
populist parties over the urban underclass and of local leaders over their
neighbourhoods. Fourth, the problem of systemic water shortage was and is
attributed to technical and natural constraints, with water scarcity being con-
structed as a matter of the unavailability of technology and water rather than
as a question of the organization and management of an equitable distribution
Water in Guayaquil, 19452000 107
system. This politically produced ideology and practice of water scarcity
defuses potential socio-political unrest over the water issue by blaming nature
for the problem. A few decades later, this same rhetoric and practice of water
scarcity would be successfully mobilized to advocate the privatization of water
supply and the introduction of market principles in the organization of the
urban water sector.
In 1960, the new water company (Junta Cantonal de Agua Potable de
Guayaquil) opened a tender to undertake the rst Master Plan study for the
future provision of water. SEURECA, a French consultancy and engineering
rm, started working on the plan in 1961. The proposals and new projects
suggested by the consultants would lay the foundations for the current water
supply system. Old pipes, sometimes dating back to the beginning of the cen-
tury, were to be replaced while production and distribution capacity would
be expanded (Olaya and Villavicencio 1990). In 1962 the Ley Constitutiva de
la Junta de Agua Potable was changed in order to turn the institution into an
autonomous company of private right with a social objective, in other words
an independent, but publicly owned, company. This allowed the water com-
pany to negotiate loans from international organizations and to contract
works. The exercise was clearly also inspired by an attempt to take water provi-
sion out of the clientelist populist hands of the local authorities and political
patrons. However, falling banana rents and a faltering Ecuadorean economy
made loans, whether national or international, more difcult to come by, and
debt servicing became more problematic.
In 1963, when the city had a population of approximately 500,000, La
Tomas production capacity was increased to 93,750m per day. In 1968, a
second huge main, with a diameter of 1,259mm and a daily conduction
capacity of 144,000m, was built between La Toma and the Tres Cerritos
reservoir. These works were nanced with loans and a variety of taxes, among
others on hotels and imports and exports. On 4 August 1970, a Supreme Decree
changed the legal position of the water authority once more, passing it once
again to the Municipality. The newly created Empresa Municipal de Agua
Potable de Guayaquil (EMAP-G) took over from the previous Junta (Calle
and Chang 1976), with a geographical remit extended to cover the whole of the
Province of Guayas. In 1989, the water company was to once again switch from
a municipal to a provincial body (Empresa Provincial de Agua Potable de
Guayas (EPAP-G) ). These frequent institutional reorganizations express and
illustrate the web of political central/local and regional/national struggles that
continue to characterize Ecuadors fragile political theatre. In 1971, the capac-
ity of La Toma was further increased by 112,500m per day, and another
60,000m per day was added in 1972. Nevertheless, these incremental alter-
ations trailed far behind the rapid population growth of the city. By 1974, 63%
of the total population of 823,000 inhabitants and 71% of the urban area had
to be supplied by tankers or community taps. The now endemic exclusionary
water practices laid the foundations for a thriving private water economy
108 Water in Guayaquil, 19452000
monopolized by water vendors whose exclusive control over the distribution of
a key element of nature in the non-serviced urban areas enabled the appropri-
ation of considerable water rents. In 1976, these tanqueros sold water at 2.5
sucres (US$0.10) for a tank of 55 gallons (200 litres). At the time, it was esti-
mated that the 69,315 families living in Suburbio paid on average 55.83 sucres
per month to private distributors for their drinking water, or an annual total of
46,438,277 sucres (US$1,857,531) (Servicios Sociales del Suburbio 1976) (see
Chapter 7 for a more detailed analysis).
5.3 The last gasp of the urban water dream
5.3.1 From black to white gold: petroleum urbanization
and the globalization of the money/water nexus
In the 1970s, a third wave of ecological expansion and transformation once
again provided Ecuador with sufcient foreign revenue to expand its economy.
Indeed, the exploitation of Amazonias huge oil reserves in the eastern part of
Ecuador from 1972 onwards signalled a new wave of rent extraction and redis-
tribution. The existing socio-spatial relations would be overhauled once more,
as the actors organizing the petroleum boom produced a new set of geograph-
ical congurations. The ecological conquest of the underground of the
Ecuadorean Amazonian rainforest was and is based exclusively on interna-
tional petro-capital. The two earlier waves of integration in the international
market place (agro-exports of cocoa and bananas) were mainly organized
through the intermediation of a domestic commercial and nancial oligarchy
combined with international trading companies. In the case of petroleum,
however, the national state would assume the role of the key interlocutor in
organizing the global/local articulation of oil. The indigenous Amazonian
peoples were legally dispossessed, as the state became the de facto and de jure
owner of the countrys natural resources (Bez, cited in Farrell 1989: 146).
Domestic appropriation of some of the rents took place either through the
state or through spillover effects into the nancial and construction industry,
thereby putting the state into pole position in terms of organizing the insertion
of Ecuador into the global political economic framework.
This power inevitably turned the state apparatus into a major arena for
social struggle. Indeed, the oil revenues, partly monopolized by the state,
resulted in continuous political power conicts for the control, appropriation,
and direction of the new investments that now became possible. In addition,
the oil boom attracted considerable attention from foreign investors (mainly in
services and banking), who were increasingly attracted to Quito rather than
Guayaquil because of the role of the national state and its centralization in the
capital city. Oil capital increased the bankability of Ecuador and foreign loans
started to ow back into the country.
Water in Guayaquil, 19452000 109
The expansion of the ecological rent frontier was this time directed inland
into the Amazon basin rather than towards the coastal regions. From
1972 onwards, oil, quite literally, owed to the coast for export through a
newly constructed 800km-long pipeline over the Andes from Amazonia to
the coastal port of Esmeraldas. In the process, crude oil is transformed
into money and capital. Quito increasingly became the countrys leading
international nancial centre, leaving Guayaquil behind in its past, but now
dimmed, glory. The oil rents appropriated by the state were, in turn, reinvested
with an eye toward domestic industrialization (Bocco 1987), mainly in infra-
structural development ranging from port facilities and new freeways to air-
ports and military build-up (to nance the latent conict with Peru and
appease a still powerful military command). The absence of a signicant
commodity-producing elite, however, turned this strategy increasingly sour
(Bocco 1987).
The ebb and ow of oil turned into money would be primarily circulated
back into Quito and Guayaquil. Investment ows had a clear urban bias, and
in 1975/6, for example, 30% of state expenditures (excluding infrastructure,
which alone accounted for 55% of the total budget) went to the cities (Allou
1987). Most of the infrastructure works also occurred in cities, and in
Guayaquil the new international airport and the new seaport were both
nanced with oil revenues (Godard 1987). The spatial choreography of the
combined ow of crude oil and capital implied a signicant geogra-
phical transfer of value from an impoverished indigenous population in
Amazonia to the urban centres. Furthermore, the appropriation of nature,
socio-economically transformed into rent, also attracted international nan-
cial capital as the advanced capitalist economies switched to the Third World
to recycle their accumulated petrodollars in the wake of the intensifying crisis
in the core capitalist economies (Swyngedouw 1996c). During the 1970s
Ecuador piled up a massive external debt, partially nanced through the return
of money originally exported in the physical form of crude oil, and promoted
by foreign capital eager to recycle its accumulated nancial reserves (Acosta
1990). Once again, the urbanization process was predicated upon further polit-
ical ecological conquest, the third wave in less than a century.
Oil rents also served to augment the ecological basis on which the citys sus-
tainability was predicated, such as widening the scale and scope of water con-
trol. In addition to major works of infrastructure, the construction sector
generated the renovation of the tugurio central, the densely populated central
part of the city. This in itself accelerated growth in the invasion settlements,
mainly in Guasmo, as the renovated inner-city neighbourhoods pushed low-
income households to the periphery of the city. The proliferating land occupa-
tions were, in turn, increasingly organized through the clientelist political
municipal power structures. For example, land in Guayaquils mangrove
estuary (Suburbio, Guasmo, and Isla Trinitaria) was sold at a mere 10 sucres
110 Water in Guayaquil, 19452000
per m`, a value which will be inated away in the early eighties as the oil econ-
omy collapsed (Godard 1987; Scheers, 1991). The clientelist local authorities
were instrumental in fostering the growth of invasion settlements in the
geographically and ecologically difcult to urbanize mangrove estuary. The
provision of services once these settlements became regularized proved to be
technically difcult and extremely costly.
In August 1975, the sub-uvial pipe bringing water from La Lolita to the
city was closed. The entire city now became dependent on a sole source of
water, the River Daule, but oil money was invested to capture more of its water
to refresh (parts of) the city. There was also increasing competition for the
water from the river, as a massive irrigation scheme was initiated to encourage
the colonization of the Guayas gulf area. In 1974, in the midst of the oil boom,
the World Bank (BIRF (Banco Internacional de Reconstruccion y Fomento) )
granted a US$24 million loan at 7.25% interest to EMAP-G, which was paid
back over the period from 1975 to 1982. The interest rate is spectacularly low
and in fact negativeas dollar ination rates rose to a two-digit level during
that period. However, few of the projects covered by the loan would be imple-
mented. The National Development Bank (FONADE, now BEDE) nanced
the further upgrading of La Toma to a total capacity of 320,000m per
day, although the conduction capacity remained the same at a maximum of
230,000m per day. Nevertheless, during very dry years, treatment capacity
was seriously hampered as a result of upstream salination from the estuary and
from eutrophied waters. A new, secondary capture point needed to be installed
on the Pula river, which is itself a tributary of the Daule river. Work on the con-
struction of a new and third aqueduct from La Toma to the city started in
1979, although the pipe terminated at Quinto Guayas, 10km short of reaching
the city (see Figure 3.4), at which point the new aqueduct was connected to the
existing mains. The city would have to wait until 1992 before the nal 10km gap
was closed and the extra production capacity reached the central urban reser-
voirs (Villavicencio 1992). In the meantime, EMAP-G had also constructed a
165km-long main to connect the Peninsula with the urban reservoirs. The
coastal towns of the peninsula were the favoured resort towns for Guayquileo
elites wishing to escape the unbearably hot and humid conditions in the city
during the rainy season, and the new aqueduct would provide these high-
income temporary residents with domestic water. In the years to come, this
main would turn into a prime target for water terrorists who regularly use
explosives to dynamite the pipe in order to secure a wider geographical area
for speculative water vending (see Chapter 8).
In 1982, The Water and Sewage division of the BIRF evaluated the effects of
the 24 million dollar loan and wrote a devastating report. It concluded that the
administration of EMAP-G was completely unsatisfactory; the project was
hugely under-nanced as a result of below-cost tariffs, the high percentage of
water spillage (45%), and the enormous backlash in accounting (on average six
Water in Guayaquil, 19452000 111
months); and the administrative costs were extraordinarily high because of the
growing number of employees. The ratio of employees per 1,000 connections is
15, while the Latin American average for companies similar to EMAP-G is
around seven.
In 1978, about 760,000 inhabitants (59,766 connections) had a domestic
water supply, while c.550,000 people (42%) were dependent on other means to
access water, primarily a continuously growing number of private water
vendors. About twenty companies, housing estates, and hotels had their own
private wells using underground aquifer water (Gilbert-Brown and Caldwell-
Ribadeneira 1980). Also in 1978, EMAP-G signed a contract with the Engi-
neering Consultancy group Gilbert-Brown and Caldwell-Ribadeneira to work
on the second Master Plan for Potable Water for the City and its Hinterland.
With the expectation of continued oil-based nancing, the old dream of cover-
ing the whole city with a continuous supply of piped potable water was once
again unearthed. This plan, permeated with the idea of the nal full comple-
tion of the urban water network, was to remain the basis of Guayaquils water
politics until this day. By the time the plan was ready, however, the national and
international situation was at the eve of great turmoil and change as the
relatively prosperous decade of the 1970s gave way to the lost decade of the
5.3.2 Oasis and the urban desert: towards institutionalized water chaos
The 1980s was a decade of intensifying crisis formation, which would plunge
Ecuador into one of its most prolonged recessions. The price of crude oil col-
lapsed and the rents generated through the ecological conquest of the Amazon
plummeted. This was followed by a deterioration of the balance of payments,
while the build-up of debt demanded ever-rising service payments (Acosta
1990). The ensuing nancial crisis and the intensied scal crisis of the state
undermined the efforts to modernize the urban fabric. The collapse of the
economy actually accelerated rural-to-urban migration, while the nancial
ows to equip the cities with the necessary infrastructure became gradually
thinner. This has by now become an all too familiar story, as for the third time
in the twentieth century, the urbanization process of Guayaquil spiralled out of
control at exactly the time when the nancial means required to service incom-
ing migrants dried up and the elites desperately tried to protect or safeguard
their own increasingly precarious condition. The earthquake of 1987, which
destroyed the trans-Andean pipeline, and the devastating effects of El Nio on
the process of agricultural rent extraction further accentuated this spiral of
decline. This economic crisis and ecological change produced an urban crisis of
gigantic dimensions: absence of investment, rapid expansion of the city, land
invasions, decline in urban services, and notoriously chaotic urban manage-
ment by a succession of populist local political leaders (Scheers 1991). The eco-
nomic elites remained basically absent from the political terrain, while the new
112 Water in Guayaquil, 19452000
urban managerial elites maintained an important power position through the
proliferation and cultivation of clientelist strategies.
The projects proposed in the 1980 Master Plan did not get under way until
1988, eight years behind the planned date. By that time, the urban condition
had altered signicantly and all new projects would increasingly run behind the
realities of the urban expansion. Throughout the 1980s the water crisis would
intensify, and by the end of the decade, the city was faced with the greatest
water problem, if not outright crisis, in its history. In 1987, nancing contracts
were nally signed to begin works to improve and expand the citys water sup-
ply system for a total value of US$51 million. This sum was the combined
nancing provided by the Commonwealth Development Corporation
(UK$4.9 million), the World Bank (US$31 million), and internal capital
(US$12 million). However, in 1989, the World Bank suspended its loan because
EMAP-G did not stick to the terms of the contract, which demanded manage-
rial streamlining and improved operational efciency. In the meantime, the
national state had to intervene with a succession of emergency loans to prevent
the total collapse of the system and to appease growing social unrest. In 1989,
EMAP-G, a municipal organization, changed again to EPAP-G, a provincial
organization, in a desperate attempt to take control over the water supply sys-
tem away from the municipal clientelist political scene and to satisfy the
requirements set by the World Bank. In the meantime, works had begun to
expand the water pumping, treatment, and conduction capacity of La Toma:
pumping capacity was increased to 800,000m per day and the water treatment
capacity expanded from 450,000m per day to 650,000m per day by 1993.
With a conservatively estimated loss of 20% (the real gure is much higher at
around 40%), this would bring the total effective capacity to 512,000m per
day. In 1992, the conduction capacity was increased to 640,000m per day as a
result of the inauguration of the V-Guayas-Tres Cerritos aqueduct, closing the
nal 10km gap from the most recent main to the reservoir. Upgrading and
expansion of the new network was carried out in the central part of the city,
parts of Guasmo, Suburbio, Mapasingue, and Prosperina and completed in
1994. By that time, the rate of coverage was about 68%, still leaving 32% of the
population without domestic connections or community taps, with no solution
in sight for the distribution problem. In 1993, the projected investment cost to
achieve full distribution coverage was conservatively estimated at around
US$40 million, although the geographical area that required servicing con-
tinued to grow as the invasion settlements expanded.
In the meantime, however, the obsession with producing more potable water
continued unabated. In 1995, a new water treatment station, adjacent to the
old one at La Toma, was constructed for US$75 million borrowed from the
Spanish government. The total capacity of the new plant is estimated at
864,000m per day, and although it would indeed improve hours of servicing
for those parts of the urban population who have domestic connections, this
white elephant will once again leave the excluded at the mercy of the water
Water in Guayaquil, 19452000 113
speculators. As will be discussed in Chapter 7, 600,000 people were still depen-
dent on tanqueros in 1993, paying an estimated US$9.5 million for their water
during that year alone. In fact, the power of the water vendors became con-
solidated through their continuing control over a vital commodity.
This institutional water chaos, enduring problems with water delivery, and
the socially produced scarcity of water began to feed a discourse of liberal-
ization and privatization in the early 1980s, with calls for a radical shift in water
governance becoming increasingly loud from the early 1990s onwards. In addi-
tion, the neo-liberal policies that swept through Latin America, combined with
the structural adjustment policies and requirements for deregulation as condi-
tions for international lending set by the worlds leading nancial institutions
(IMF, World Bank) produced a political, social, and economic environment
that pushed, slowly and originally imperceptibly, for greater private sector par-
ticipation and investment in the water sector. By the mid-1990s, it became
abundantly clear that Guayaquil and Ecuador would follow the clarion call of
the international political and economic elites. They set off on a course of pri-
vatization, a trajectory that had now been hegemonically presented as offering
the panacea for what had become a really intractable problem. This transition
from a publicly owned to a privately controlled water company will be further
explored in the next chapter.
5.4 Conclusion: scaling nature, scaling water
As documented in the previous two chapters, the city of Guayaquil grew on the
basis of successive ecological conquests and the appropriation of rents from
agricultural produce or the pumping of oil through which money was continu-
ously recycled and nature became urbanized. The harnessing and urbanization
of water inserted the circulation of water squarely into the circulation process
of money and its associated power relations and class differentiations. The cir-
culation of water and of money expressed and reected the changing political
and social power geometries and the spatial choreography of social, political,
and economic power relations at a variety of articulated geographical scales:
the urban, the regional, the national, and the international.
The production of new landscapes of power and the seizure of rents from
land development was predicated upon the extraction rst of cocoa rents, then
bananas, and nally oil. Each time, social power relations became recongured
through these combined political (and) ecological transformations. The ow of
water, combined with and running through physical and social urban space,
represents just one of myriad processes and interconnected networks operating
on a regional, national, and indeed worldwide scale, including ows of trans-
formed nature, commodities, and money, transfers of capital, and labour force
114 Water in Guayaquil, 19452000
From the very beginning of commodied urban watering, the urbanization
of water was subject to intense social struggles, as the dialectic of exclusion
from and access to commodied urban services unfolded. The now endemic
exclusionary water practices provided the foundation for a thriving private
water economy, monopolized by water vendors whose exclusive control over
a key element of nature permits the appropriation of considerable water rents.
In other words, the transformation of nature is part and parcel of the power
relations through which the urbanization process unfolds.
In sum, nature and society are brought together to form an urban political
ecology that combines the political with the socio-economic and with the eco-
logical in ways that render them inseparable. Urbanization, therefore, is a
process infused with relations of social power, and proceeds through multiple
forms of socio-spatial struggle in which (transformed and metabolized) nature
takes centre stage. In the end, the water issue is part and parcel of a much wider
consideration of the environmental basis of the citys existence and change.
The city is a giant process of perpetual transformation of nature. Nature and
society are welded together to form an urban political ecology that unites the
power of socially mobilized and ecologically transformed nature with the
power of money. Water circulation is, therefore, just one illustration of how
nature and society become united in the production of a socio-spatial fabric
that privileges some and excludes many. Water is an integral element in this
process and needs to be addressed in these terms. The recognition of the social
production of nature and of the city is essential if issues of sustainability are to
be combined with just and empowering urban development. In short, the key
questions running through these chapters are whose water is being urbanized,
whose nature is transformed, and who has the right to the city and its waters?
And these are the questions we shall turn to next.
Water in Guayaquil, 19452000 115
The Water Mandarins:
The Contradictions of Urban
Water Provision
Billions of litres of water ow through the centre of Guayaquil each day, as the
Rivers Daule and Babahoyo converge to form the River Guayas. Given this
fact, it is perplexing to nd that 35% of the inhabitants of the city do not have
access to adequate and reliable water supplies and the whole city suffers from
chronic absolute water shortages. In this and the next chapter, we shall explore
the contradictions of urban water provision, which result in a sizeable part of
the urban population, invariably the poorer end of the social spectrum, not
having access to piped potable water. This situation, in turn, makes them easy
victims of water speculators, the private water sellers that distribute water in
non-serviced areas by means of tankers. In Guayaquil, approximately 400
tankers service a population of half a million people, or approximately 35% of
the total urban population. These water-merchants buy water at a highly sub-
sidized price (70 sucres/m), while they sell it for up to 6,500 sucres/m (Novem-
ber 1993),' a price of up to 300 times higher than that paid by low-volume
consumers who receive water from the water company. We will also explore the
strategies and structure of the water company, infrastructure and investment
planning, price mechanisms and control structures in the light of these exclu-
sionary and disempowering mechanisms of the existing water system.
In short, we shall explore the contradictory dynamics of the Water Man-
darins. The complex networks of those that hold control over the water tap,
water infrastructure, and water distribution will be excavated in order to
unearth the relations of power that infuse and eventually organize the inter-
mittent ow of water in Guayaquil. Of course, analysing the changing dynam-
ics of water supply in Guayaquil is like trying to hit a moving target. The eld
research for this book was completed in 1998. Since then, the public water com-
pany has awarded a concession to International Water Services, a Dutch-based
subsidiary of Bechtel and Edison Spa, to operate, administer, and expand
Guayaquils water and sewage services and infrastructure (see below). The pri-
vate operator started ofcially in April 2002, and the implications and effects of
' The exchange rate in November 1993 was c.1950 sucres for 1 US dollar.
this part-privatization are not yet clear or known. Nevertheless, it is safe to say
that Guayaquil continues to suffer from major water problems and will con-
tinue to do so in the foreseeable future. In August 2002, the private water-
vending trucks and their sales practices remain an integral part of daily life in
the poor settlements of the city.
6.1 The rise and fall of the urban public water company:
the route to privatization
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the circulation of urban
water in Latin America tended to follow a route similar to that taken just a few
decades earlier in Europe (see Goubert 1989). By the mid to late nineteenth
century, urban water engineers aimed to provide full mastery and control of
water for urban purposes and these mega water work systems became the hall-
mark of urban water provision throughout Latin America until this very day.
Western capital, engineers, and technology constructed most, if not all, of
Latin Americas urban water and sewerage systems. However, the urbanization
of capital in the context of peripheral modernization quickly showed tensions
and problems with respect to the urbanization of water.
In most Latin American countries, urban water production, conduction and
distribution was until very recently (and still is in many places) a monopolized
and highly subsidized public sector activity, institutionalized in national,
regional, or municipal water companies (Saenz 1988; Faudry 1987; Ucls 1991;
United Nations Centre for Human Settlements 1991). The origins of public
urban water utilities in the second half of the nineteenth century were part
of the bourgeois-liberal revolutions that swept through Latin America. In
Ecuador, the Liberal Revolution of 1895 headed by Eloy Alfaro provided a
strong impetus for major infrastructure works, of which urban water supply
became an important component. As detailed in the previous chapters, the
growth of the city and the changing urban class composition resulted in a series
of contradictions which were contained by means of public sector organiza-
tion of urban services and infrastructure. The state provided urban services for
the urban elite, while subaltern classes were systematically excluded from both
political power and urban services.
Initially, the urbanization and domestication of water kept pace with the
accelerating urbanization of capital. From the very beginning, the control over
and harnessing of water was inscribed in the political economic struggles that
underpinned Latin Americas urbanization processes. However, the urbaniza-
tion of water was also subject to intense social struggles from the very begin-
ning, as the dialectic of exclusion from and access to commodied urban
services unfolded. Throughout the twentieth century, the state tried in vain to
keep urban infrastructure expanding in pace with accelerating urbanization.
Contradictions of Urban Water Provision 117
However, the perpetual budgetary problems of the state meant that state
investment was continuously in peril, resulting in domestic underinvestment
combined with a chronic dependence on external nancing. The contradic-
tions of peripheral urbanization soon intensied the conict over the control
for water and resulted in a systematic exclusion of the new poorer urban resi-
dents from easy and cheap access to the (limited volume of) available potable
water. In the next section, the characteristics and implications of these tensions
as they are expressed in the structure of urban water provision will be further
detailed. In Guayaquil, the acceleration of the urbanization process from the
early fties onwards rapidly outpaced the expansion of the water production
and supply network, with the gulf between need and available service widening
over the years.
As the urban condition deteriorated and the crisis of the state deepened
throughout the 1980s, the public provision of collective goods came under
intense pressure. From below, residents increasingly protested the states inad-
equacy in providing basic services; from above, scal constraints, liberalizing
tendencies, and the tensions within the Keynesian model of state investment
forced a fundamental reworking of the relationship between state, city, and the
provision of collective goods. From the late 1980s onwards, a series of far-
reaching reforms in the water sector paved the way for the part-privatization of
Guayaquils water services. The municipal company that had been formed in
1976 (EMAP-G) was turned into a provincial company in 1989 (EPAP-G), a
change, which would later be seen as the rst step towards the eventual privati-
zation. The latter was nally achieved in 2000. We shall now turn to analysing
the multiple contradictions of the system of public or collective water provi-
sion as they became part of the institutional and organizational structure of
Guayaquils water supply system.
6.2 The contradictions of urban public water provision
6.2.1 Chronic problems of nancial decits
The planning, programming, administration, and implementation of urban
waterworks was caught up in a series of problems associated with the nature of
the peripheral urbanization process. The state-controlled urban water bodies
attempted to contain the contradictions between the demands of the urban
bourgeoisie and those of recently arrived immigrants and poor urban resi-
dents. This can be exemplied by (a) the water tariff and price structure; (b) the
problem of unaccounted water use; (c) the internal administrative functioning
of the water institutions; and (d) the organization of waterworks planning and
Latin American urban water institutions are often faced with the problem of
an operating situation that generates structural decits. This is quite different
118 Contradictions of Urban Water Provision
from a subsidized model in that such a system would still run on a standard bal-
anced account management. A system running structural decits operates on
ad hoc, piecemeal, and emergency interventions, loans, and subsidies from
the national state or international lending bodies. From the very beginning, the
high cost of urban engineering works required massive (usually external)
nancing, while the political economic forces in the city demanded low water
prices. This resulted in chronic losses for the water utilities.
In 1988, more than half of the urban water companies and all of the big city
companies in Latin America were running sizeable decits (Faudry, Ortiz, and
Fandino 1991). A review of projects nanced by the World Bank showed that
the effective price charged for water is only about 35% of the average cost of
supplying it, while the utilities generated only 21% of the projects total costs
(World Bank 1992). The Empresa Provincial de Agua Potable (EPAP-G) of
Guayaquil, for example, recorded an annual income from water related activi-
ties of 14.2 billion sucres in 1991, compared to a total operating expenditure
(excluding amortizations) of 18.7 billion sucres. This suggests that the opera-
tional loss alone of EPAP is 24.1%. In 1990, the effective running cost (exclud-
ing capital stock depreciation) of producing a cubic metre of distributed and
accounted for water was 170 sucres, although the price to low volume con-
sumers (<15m/month) was 30 sucres and to the tanqueros or water vendors it
was 70 sucres. This chronic decit leads to perpetual underinvestment, prob-
lems with the maintenance of existing infrastructure, and a lack of funds to
expand the network into newly urbanizing areas.
Water tariffs are often set on the basis of xed lump-sum payments. Accu-
rate accounting of water use is hampered by the absence of water meters,
decient maintenance, and/or insufcient meter readers (Faudry, Ortiz, and
Fandino 1991). In addition, tariffs are usually set well below production and
overhead costs and do not take investment costs into consideration. Water
companies operate within a context that puts social, economic, and political
premiums on keeping water prices as low as possible, with the aims of combat-
ing ination, maintaining social peace, and satisfying the demands of large
industrial and commercial consumers for easy, cheap, and highly subsidized
access to great (if not unlimited) quantities of potable water, even though a
substantial share is used for irrigation purposes, lling swimming pools, and
the like. This perpetuates the chronic decit of the public utilities (Caravedo
1986; Coing and Montano 1986) and further jeopardizes both the mainten-
ance of the existing structure and the implementation of new investments to
keep pace with urban expansion. However, the redistributive aspects attributed
to the provision of subsidized water are highly questionable under conditions
in which nearly all poor urban residents are excluded from the ofcial supply
system. In fact, there is a negative redistribution (Estache, Gomez-Lobo, and
Leipziger 2001). Non-connected (poor) urban dwellers pay extraordinarily
high prices to the water speculators for their water because the public system
cannot deliver its services in a comprehensive way, at least partially because of
Contradictions of Urban Water Provision 119
chronic decits. Nevertheless, these same people contribute to the nancing of
the water utilitys losses and the debt servicing. Within the limited context of
the ofcial system itself, some redistribution does occur which seems to benet
smaller consumers (Corchuelo Rozo 1981). On the whole, however, the chronic
decit and underpricing of water results in a massive transfer of income to
commerce, industry, and the more wealthy private consumers (Faudry, Ortiz,
and Fandino 1991; Caravedo 1986).
In addition to the subsidized price, and partially as its consequence, a size-
able volume of water is not accounted for. In Lima, this represents 62% of the
supply (Caravedo 1986), in Guayaquil the gure is 65%. In Bogot the rate of
increase of the volume of potable water produced is higher than the rate of
population growth, although the amount of water actually charged for has
increased at a much slower rate (Jaramillo 1988). Four main factors are respon-
sible for these problems with accounting for water:
(1) physical losses as a result of lacking or insufcient maintenance;
(2) free deliveries;
(3) underestimation of water use due to absent, unchecked, or ill-functioning
(4) illegal and fraudulent connections by industry, households, and private
water sellers.
Moreover, Zolezzi and Calderon (1985) report in their study of Lima that,
contrary to popular belief, the level of unpaid water use is considerably higher
in the central upper-class parts of the city than in the lower-class periphery.
Evidence from Guayaquil indicates a similar situation. Data presented in Table
6.1 show that the more afuent northern and central parts of the city receive
respectively 70% and 26% of the available water. Both physical and commercial
losses are very high in these parts, compared with the poorer southern part of
the city. The latter receives only 4% of the available water (for an average of four
hours per day), but pays for 38% more water than it actually receives. As a result
of the absence of meters, the residents in this part of the city are charged on the
basis of estimated water use, estimates which are systematically higher than the
actual water use. In sum, in the poorer parts of town there is 38% over-account-
ing, while the richer areas do not pay for 1920% of the water they actually
receive. The combination of a subsidized price with systematic under-account-
ing leads to a double advantage for the upper-class areas in comparison with
the poorer ones. The data also challenge the deeply held belief that it is the poor
in marginal settlements who are mainly responsible for illegal water tapping
and water theft.
In short, the combination of below-cost pricing and the substantial amount
of water unaccounted for serves particular interests. These are further accen-
tuated in a context of widespread and deeply rooted clientelist political tradi-
tions (see, for example, Bataillon and Panabire 1988; Menndez Carrin
120 Contradictions of Urban Water Provision
1986). Any attempt at reducing nancial losses by increasing prices or improv-
ing accounting practices would be deeply unpopular among the upper classes.
In addition, implementing such price policies might lead to social unrest in the
popular settlements, while improved policing of illegal connections or a more
repressive stance on water theft might deprive those for whom this strategy is
often the only possible means of securing affordable access to at least some
quantity of potable water. Of course, these are exactly the strategies that priva-
tized water utilities are likely to pursue after privatization.
The clientelist-populist nature of many Latin American urban polities, a
condition with a long tradition in Guayaquil results in the water companies
having a very low level of productivity, a situation which is exacerbated when
combined with low labour costs. The ratio between the number of employees
per 1,000 connections is generally high (on average about eight) (Montano and
Coing 1985), leading to Kafkaesque bureaucratic procedures and working
environments. The administrative overkill weighs heavily on the budget, and
the budget is further stretched by insufcient maintenance, which increases
long-term costs. In addition, the chronic decit necessitates external nancial
inputs, resulting in a situation of perpetual debt, the servicing of which further
increases the already sky-high budget decit (Jaramillo 1988).
Moreover, inadequate or absent urban planning pushes overhead costs fur-
ther upwards. Water engineering systems follow urbanization patterns rather
than guiding them. As many of the spontaneous settlements take place on mar-
ginal land that is difcult to access and/or poses serious technical or engineer-
ing difculties, the cost of bringing water to these communities is often very
high (CIUDAD 1988). The absence of actual or prospective land rents of any
signicance in these marginal areas turned them into prime invasion sites.
However, extraordinarily high water rents rapidly negate the benets of these
low land rents as the new urban residents become subject to the monopolistic
practices of private water vendors (see Chapter 7).
Contradictions of Urban Water Provision 121
Table 6.1. Water consumption, distribution, losses,
and accounted-for water in Guayaquil, 1990
Sector North Central South
Number of inhabitants 421,214 422,985 272,393
% of water supplied 70 26 4
Water/capita/day (litres) 307 160 43
% of accounted water 29 48 1.1
% of physical losses 53 32 27.4
% of commercial losses 19 20 -38
Source: EPAP (1991a).
In sum, the internal administrative and operational organization of many
Latin American urban public water utilities reect strategies to contain the
contradictions outlined above, which then begin to work themselves out within
the structures of the water institutions. This, in turn, aggravates an already
acute urban socio-ecological crisis.
6.2.2 Structural dependence on outside nancing
The precarious budgetary conditions of the water companies make them
dependent on external sources of nancing to make up for the decit and/or to
invest in new ventures. National subsidies or loans are rarely sufcient, so
international nancing is usually required to maintain or expand the system.
Montano and Coing (1985: 22) hold that the model of Third World urban
water supply is based on external (international) nancing, and argue that this
condition accentuates centralizing tendencies and favours large-scale engin-
eering projects. Consequently, the management and technology of urban water
provision is deeply caught up in the political economies of national states, their
entrance to and position within the global division of labour, and the strategies
of the chief international private and public lending agencies.
The dependence on national nance takes the form of annual subventions
and/or ad hoc and often post hoc emergency subsidies or loans. This depen-
dence leads to a situation in which urban water supply is caught in the political
debate on national strategies on the one hand and the national economic con-
juncture on the other. In addition, it ultimately fuels inationary pressures
(Bataillon and Panabire 1988). The money available for collective consump-
tion investments has shrunk considerably, particularly during the period of
intense nancial crisis in Latin America over the past 20 years, and not least as
a result of the massive debt burden. Annual ination leapt well into two-digit
(and sometimes three-digit) gures, leading to extreme attempts at achieving
scal stability, such as the full conversion of Ecuadors economy to the US
dollar in 2000 (dolarizacin). Not only did national expenditures fall in real
terms during the 1980s and 1990s, but also the economic crisis, combined with
the imposed austerity recipes from international lending agencies and a deci-
sive shift towards deregulation and more market-oriented national economic
policies, diverted capital away from social or collective investments (Acosta
and Moldonado 1992). The object of this structural adjustment policy was to
switch capital from the public to the private sector in a (largely vain) attempt to
combat ination and to put the national economy back on the rails of a re-
invigorated export dependency. Below, we shall discuss how the conditions set
by international agencies paved the way for the privatization of Guayaquils
water services. In spite of the International Drinking Water Supply and Sani-
tation Decade of the 1980s and more recent resounding international declara-
tions (see Vsconez 1992), water infrastructure investment has slowed down
122 Contradictions of Urban Water Provision
and the supply of potable urban water has decreased in many Latin American
countries. In 1991, the Ecuadorean national government had to provide EPAP
with Aportes Emergentes (emergency loans), totalling 35.5 billion sucres, in
addition to 3 billion sucres from transfers received from Telephone Company
(IETEL) contributions and another 1.3 billion sucres in subsidies from a series
of other sources and special taxes. Table 6.2 shows the expansion of EPAPs
debt between 1980 and 1992, a period of intense economic crisis. Most of the
loans for repairing, improving, or expanding the existing production and dis-
tribution capacity were external, coming from either the World Bank (BIRF)
or from bilateral sources of nancing.
The high levels of debt, exacerbated by rapidly rising interest rates, made
self-nancing of new investments virtually impossible. In addition, the grow-
ing international difculties associated with Ecuadors problematic debt repay-
ment history made international loans less easy to come by (Acosta 1990).
This, in turn, slowed down the further expansion of the water system and, con-
sequently, perpetuates the structure of exclusion from access to water. It also
allows local elites to blame international lending agencies for the continuation
of the existing exclusionary water distribution system.
The inadequacy of local nance necessitated perpetual appeals to
international nancing, which grew from funding 30.2% of water supply
Contradictions of Urban Water Provision 123
Table 6.2. Evolution of the debt position of the
Empresa Provincial de Agua Potable, Guayaquil,
Year Total debt Debt service
in US$
in US$ (BIRF) in sucres (BEDE)
1980 42,735,010 1,791,466 67,437,151
1981 40,943,544 1,935,519 74,810,681
1982 39,008,025 1,922,743 65,053,380
1983 37,085,282 1,650,000 87,682,850
1984 35,435,282 1,969,249 111,751,389
1985 33,466,033 1,886,872 165,291,126
1986 31,579,161 2,197,767 168,166,139
1987 29,381,394 2,247,206 193,840,502
1988 27,134,188 3,207,354 268,844,076
1989 23,926,834 2,457,825 398,173,198
1990 21,469,009 3,003,236 436,383,221
1991 18,465,773 3,000,994 444,429,818
1992 15,464,779 2,969,531 415,749,075
BEDE: Ecuadors National Development Bank (Bando Ecuador-
iano de Desarollo Economico).
Source: EPAP-G.
infrastructure development in the 1970s to 43.5% in the 1980s. During the
1980s, the International Development Bank provided about half of this nanc-
ing, and the majority of the rest came from the World Bank, while bilateral
nancing (including by the European Union) represented no more than 5% of
the total (Faudry, Ortiz, and Fandino 1991). However, interest rates and
Ecuadors debt burden shot up over the same period, making international
capital (which is always a rather rare commodity to come by for state-
controlled collective consumption investments) even more difcult to obtain.
Moreover, the continuous dependence on foreign capital aggravated the
national debt problem and perpetuated the infernal vicious spiral of the
countrys external debt burden (Cuervo et al. 1991).
In recent years, international lending bodies have turned their attention
somewhat from a focus on large new infrastructure works to institutional
streamlining, administrative and operational efciency, and maintenance
(Zavala 1990). This, of course, is also considered to be a necessity to pave the
road for privatization. However, loans also became subject to more stringent
managerial and productivity conditions, which many water companies nd
extremely difcult to adhere to in the short run as a result of the social and
political forces under which they operate. In addition, they are acutely aware of
how such conditions facilitate privatization, a prospect many workers (whether
high ranking or rank and le) do not look forward to.
For example, in 1988, the World Bank put a loan approved in the early 1980s
to Guayaquils water utility on ice because EPAP-G could not adhere to the
Banks strict managerial and organizational conditions. These conditions
included reducing the amount of water lost through damage and theft, reduc-
ing the workforce of the utility and increasing the price of water. For reasons
associated with the nature of the local state (see above) and the widespread
clientelist traditions of Ecuadors local politics, a rapid implementation of
these conditions is impossible, as they demand radical changes in a very well
established and deeply entrenched political practice. The World Bank released
the loan only in 1994, after a major institutional overhaul of EPAPs internal
organization (see also below).
The dependence on international nance also has a bearing on the type of
technological water control pursued (Brustein 1988a). The requirements of
international lending agencies make project execution subject to international
tender. Bilateral loans are usually subject to the use of engineering services and
procurement of equipment from the lending country. These mechanisms
privilege new infrastructure investment over institutional or organizational
improvements and maintenance projects. They also contribute to a costly het-
erogeneity of systems and technologies, and close off the market from domes-
tic suppliers. Such imposed technical choices pose problems in terms of both
the qualications of local engineers and in terms of maintenance. Costly
imports of foreign components and dependence on external expertise are the
most important problems associated with these practices. These processes fur-
124 Contradictions of Urban Water Provision
ther feed the productivist logic that characterizes most water supply utilities,
a problem that we will turn to in the next section.
6.2.3 The productivist logic
The deadlock in tariff increases, the negative returns on water sales, the histor-
ical preoccupation with massive engineering structures for the production and
transmission of water, the ideological bias towards providing unlimited quan-
tities of water to industry and higher classes, the chronic shortages of water as
a result of accelerating urbanization, the dependence on external nance, the
technological bias inherent in international lendingall these combine to
result in a preoccupation with the production and transmission of potable
water and a negligence of maintenance, accounting, distribution and con-
sumption, not to speak of sewerage and the treatment of waste water. This, in
turn, perpetuates the systematic exclusion of large parts of the population
from access to the available water. These processes also enable private water
distribution monopolies to prosper and to consolidate their power by means of
water speculation and monopoly rent extraction.
In Guayaquil, the average production and supply capacity of the existing
facilities would allow for a daily per capita consumption of 220 litres. Current
daily consumption varies between an average of 307 litres per capita in the well-
to-do parts of the city to less than 25 litres per capita for those who are supplied
by the private water sellers. Compared with an internationally accepted
standard of 150 litres per capita per day, Guayaquil ought to be in a position to
provide every citizen with a sufcient supply of potable water. The key issue,
therefore, is one of distribution of available capacity rather than an issue of
absolute scarcity. The scarcity that is actually felt by the residents of some parts
of the city is socio-politically constructed rather than produced by environ-
mental or technical constraints.
This inequality in terms of access and consumption serves as a powerful
instrument to legitimize a productivist ideology and helps to avoid discussing,
let alone, tackling the thorny distributional issue. Indeed, the shortages in
production and conduction capacity to meet the potential demand for water
(which is usually estimated on the basis of a combination of average and pro-
jected uses of current water customers with internationally accepted recom-
mendations, which are largely extrapolations of current water use in Western
societies) feeds the productivist logic of water utilities and their political and
economic representatives (Marvin and Laurie 1999). The proclaimed panacea
for an apparently technically and rationally measured insufcient supply
(itself a highly contested concept) is the expansion of production and conduc-
tion capacity. The latter increasingly runs behind the realities of contemporary
urban life. The growing mismatch between available service and popular need,
in turn, further reinforces the call for more production, more investment and
new facilities of the traditional kind. As such, the exclusion from water or the
Contradictions of Urban Water Provision 125
highly unequal access to water provides a strong argument to those command-
ing water production and supply to perpetuate and strengthen a system that is
fraught with actually producing the very exclusionary practices it set itself to
solve in the rst place. In fact, even the water speculators applaud these poli-
cies as they provide the best assurance to safeguard their monopoly rent extrac-
tion practices. Obviously, as long as the state and its elite administrators
consider private water vending to be only a temporary emergency condition
that will disappear as soon as the master plans are implemented, there is no
need to regulate, control, or institutionalize this alternative water delivery
system in the interest of the poor. This objective alliance between the formal
and informal water sectors is further developed and strengthened through
allegedly reported direct relationships between the water administrators and
the water speculators.
Until recently, the transformation of natures water was a wholly public
activity, although the urbanization of water is organized through a mixture of
public and private systems. The public system, however, supplies urban elites
and powerful enterprises, while the poor are served predominantly by the pri-
vate system. The elites enjoy subsidized water supplies, but the poor are caught
in the monopolistic squeeze of the private vendors. For example, EPAPs total
revenues from water sales in 1991 amounted to US$12.35 million, while the
estimated total income of the private water vendors (who distribute not more
than about 3% of the available water12,000m per day) exceeded US$7.2
million (Swyngedouw and Bovarnick 1995). Moreover, the productivist bias
allows water companies to concentrate on technical engineering issues (which
are, of course, not neutral in their social content and effects) and to avoid the
thorny and politically controversial issue of just water distribution. Demand is
considered to be a given. It is not an issue for which choices have to be consid-
ered, and difcult questions such as equitable management and the inequality
of access do not have to be addressed.
The above set of mechanisms leads to an overwhelmingly technocratic
perspective and gives supply priority over demand in the chain of circulating
water. The productivist logic puts a premium on costly, new, centralized, and
large-scale production systems at the expense of distribution and maintenance.
The use of conventional technological systems to cover the urban area in a
comprehensive manner would be too expensive, a situation that consequently
induces segregation in terms of access to water. The long-term nancing of
such giant conventional engineering works precludes the possibility of wider
coverage of water supply in the short term, which, combined with lagging
provision of sewerage, further consolidates already pervasive patterns of
residential segregration (Goldenberg 1981; Knaebel and Leme 1985). In 1992,
Niemczynowicz estimated that [a]pproximate cost estimates for the complete
provision of water supply and sanitation in urban areas of the developing
world by the year 2000, calculated according to the UNICEF model, amount
to US$357 billion, taking into account that only 50 per cent of this amount
126 Contradictions of Urban Water Provision
would be used for high-cost technology (see also Christmas and de Roy 1991).
According to the New Delhi Statement (1991), meeting all demands within
the water and sanitation sector by 2000 would have required an increase of
investments from US$10 billion per year in 1991 to US$50 billion per year by
the year 2000, using conventional approaches. We know now that this target
was not achieved. At the Environment Summit in Johannesburg in 2002, the
intention to halve the number of people without access to safe water by 2015
was repeated. However, without political will and extraordinary nancial
inputs, this will once again remain a distant dream.
The narrow productivist and commodifying logic of urban water supply also
excludes considerations of water resource management and focuses attention
solely on the production of potable urban water without considering alterna-
tive or multiple uses, recycling and treatment, or the sustainable management
of natural water resources. In addition to the obvious problems this causes in
terms of ecological management and the sustainable use of water, this also
intensies conicts with other uses of water such as agricultural irrigation and
hydroelectrical production.
6.2.4 The rush towards privatization
Over the past decade, privatization of public services has rushed ahead,
particularly in Latin America (see Table 6.3). By 2007, it is expected that 60%
of Latin Americas water and sewerage services will be operated privately. This
spectacular growth (see Table 6.4) coincided with a worldwide rush towards
deregulation, reduced state involvement in the economy, retrenchment of pub-
lic service delivery, cutbacks in public spending, scal restraint, and reduced
external lending. The contradictions of public water provision produced a
series of tensions, problems and, eventually, difcult to manage conditions that
paved the way and cleared the obstacles for private investment in the water
Contradictions of Urban Water Provision 127
Table 6.3. Proportion of water and sanitation services privatized,
1997 and 2010 projected
Region % Privatized, 1997 % Privatized, 2010 Value of privatized
market (US$ billions)
Western Europe 20 35 10
Central and East 4 20 4
North America 5 15 9
Latin America 4 60 9
Africa 3 33 3
Asia 1 20 10
Source: (5 Sept. 2002).
sector (Crespo 2002a). The reasons for and motivations behind privatization,
as summarized by Castro (2002) (see Tables 6.5 and 6.6), do indeed hold for the
case of Guayaquil, despite the arguments that militate against privatization
(see Table 6.7) (see also Gleick et al. 2002). Of course, there is nothing
inevitable about privatization, which is, in fact, a carefully orchestrated process
by the state, usually in conjunction with international organizations, that
shapes the political, economic, and institutional conditions that eventually
lead to a wholesale overhaul of the public services. In addition, selected media
join the chorus to chant the virtues of privatization and hail this as the panacea
for all ills. Moreno Mendoza (1998) argues, for example, in Vistazo, a local
magazine, how privatizing water services will simultaneously deal with a recal-
citrant labour force in the water company and solve the problem of informal
tanquero water vending in the suburban areas. The recent institutional his-
tory of Guayaquils waterworks illustrates the creeping, but targeted, process
that would ultimately result in the privatization of the city water and sewerage
In 1987, the World Bank had approved a US$31 million loan for the
improvement of water services. This was subject to a series of conditions, such
as institutional streamlining, the integration of water and sewerage services,
and improved operational efciency, and was suspended in 1989 after EMAP
failed to full these. From that moment onwards, the process of institutional
change accelerated. The change of EMAP-G, a municipal organization, to
EPAP-G, a provincial organization in 1989 was the rst step in adhering to the
conditions set by the Bank, accompained by a change in leadership in order to
facilitate cleaning up the internal administrative chaos. In addition, it paved
the way for the integration of water and sewerage services as the public sewer-
age company had been provincially organized for a long time. In 1994, the
128 Contradictions of Urban Water Provision
Table 6.4. International corporate private investment for water and sanitation
in developing and transition countries, 19841997
Year Number of Increase (%) Value (million) Increase (%)
All Developing Countries
198490 8 300
19907 97 1,137 25,000 7,900
Breakdown by region, 19907
East Asia 30 12,000
Eastern Europe/Central Asia 15 1,500
Latin America/Caribbean 40 8,300
Middle East/North Africa 4 3,300
Sub-Saharan Africa 8 37
Source: Elaborated from Department for International Development (2000)
water and sewerage services were integrated into one company, the Empresa
Cantonal de Agua Potable y Alcantarillo de Guayaquil (ECAPAG), in full-
ment of another condition set by the international lending institutions. A
US$40 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to the
Contradictions of Urban Water Provision 129
Table 6.5. Factors of public sector inefciency
Private companies that had to be rescued
by the public sector owing to nancial
Shortfall of capital
Inadequate funding provision to meet
agreed targets
Propensity to incur in excess indebtedness
Obstacles to access capital markets
Lack or irregular valuation of xed and
operational assets
Poor planning in the allocation of
resources and priority setting
Poor management of targeted subsidies
Inadequate legal framework
Over dimensioned structures
Prevalence of short-term approaches to
long-term requirements
Lack of precision and consistency in
objective setting
Lack of managerial experience
Excessive turn around of personnel
owing to political interests
Lack of monitoring and supervision of
performance (internal and external)
Excessive bureaucratization
Deciency in the personnels aptitudes
and attitudes (lack of commitment;
low motivation (e.g. owing to low
salaries) )
Limited professionalism
Inadequate career structures
Government interference in the
management process
Inuence of external (mainly political)
factors on decision-making
Politicization of managers
Source: Castro (2002).
Centralized government that prioritizes
expansion investment forgetting
operation and maintenance
Socio-economic characteristics of the
customer base that limit revenues or
induce social and labour problems
Financial constraints to meet demand
growth (for water supply, electricity,
Spiralling operational and maintenance
Inadequate tariff structures
High variations in sources and uses of
High water losses
Droughts or environmental change that
affects the availability of water
National framework prohibits or
constrains business orientation in
running the utilities
Institutional complexity and overlapping
of responsibilities (national, regional,
and local levels)
Legal, political, and social limits to tariff
government of Ecuador specically required the privatization of ECAPAG in
order to improve the water and sanitation services to the city of Guayaquil. In
fact, the loan included provisions to grant a long-term concession to the private
sector to promote greater efciencies of these [water and sewerage] services
and investment in the system (Inter-American Development Bank 1997). The
loan was granted to enable ECAPAG to undertake technical, legal, and nan-
cial studies to prepare bid specications to award the concession. ECAPAG
would be reorganized to function as an oversight and regulatory agency (with
a massively reduced workforce), while the private sector would be responsible
for operating the system. Only half of the loan (US$19.8 million) was ear-
marked for nancing high-priority rehabilitation work to prevent further dete-
rioration of existing infrastructure. The loan has a 25-year term at a variable
rate, in 1997, of 6.9%, and local counterpart funds totalled US$10 million.
International bids were solicited, but despite the fact that Suez-Lyonnaise and
Thames Water pre-qualied, International Water was the only company to bid.
In January 2001, ECAPAG conrmed that International Water had been
awarded a 30-year concession to operate and administer the citys waterworks.
130 Contradictions of Urban Water Provision
Table 6.6. Factors promoting privatization
The economic and nancial needs of the country in the face of scarce resources and
increased demand
Reducing the nancial burden of the public sector
Capacity to attract foreign loans
Increased productivity gains expected from introducing competition
Promotion of economic growth expected from private investment
Assistance to development of capital markets
Generating resources that can be applied in cross-subsidization to fund other projects
(e.g. network expansion, waste water treatment, etc.)
Reduction of taxes through raising revenue from water
For expanding the service to unserviced areas
For quality improvements (e.g. new water treatment technologies, etc.)
Tackling the increased complexity of water supply activities and their environmental
Reducing the administrative burden and direct responsibility of the public sector
Improvement of the capacity for response to local needs
Transparency of information (on funding sources, guarantees, risks, conditions)
Increased private sector condence inducing investment and repatriation of capital
Pressure and conditioning from multilateral nancial institutions
Pressure from powerful interest groups that may benet from privatization
Expected enhancement of the governments credibility (internally and externally)
Source: Castro (2002); see also Gleick et al. (2002).
A local subsidiary, Guayaquil Interagua C. Ltda., was established through
an investment company (International Water Services B.V.) based in the
International Water (IWL) is a truly global company. It originated in the
early 1990s as part of a series of partnerships between North West Water
(NWW) (now United Utilities (UU) ) and Bechtel (50%), the US construction
company. Bechtel purchased NWWs engineering division and created a joint
water venture in the USA, US Water. International Water was created as a joint
venture operating internationally outside the USA or the UK. UU sold their
share to Edison Spa, an Italian company, in 1999, but remained as the agreed
operating partner for International Water. IWL is globally active, with oper-
ations in, among others, Melbourne, Manila, Mexico City, and Soa. It was
also the contractor in the failed privatization of Cochabambas water supply
Contradictions of Urban Water Provision 131
Table 6.7. Factors discouraging privatization
Lack of interested and reliable investors
Unreliable economic environment (e.g. ination, volatile exchange rates threatening
returns on investment, etc.)
Poorly developed capital markets
Prospect of price increases or excessive prots
Potential creation of monopolies
Difculties in collecting water payments, uncertainties on levels of return to be achieved
Higher than average rates of return requested by the private investors
Fiscal decits that limit nancial capacity
Unreliability or inadequacy of resources availability, geographical obstacles, etc.
The complexity of the preparatory work (legal, institutional, economic, political, etc.)
Legal or constitutional prohibition
Inadequate or unpredictable institutional and policy environment
Inefcient or nonexistent regulatory structures
Political interference
Low motivation of the staff, salary problems
Weight of tradition (government as provider)
Government interest in keeping control over services (for social, political, or economic
Uncertainty about privatization prospects in the face of inconclusive evidence
The scope of the changes involved
The protection of social equity aspects (distribution issues, welfare, health, etc.)
Opposition interest groups that have stakes in public enterprises
Political opposition
Private sector distrust of long-term viability (e.g. fears of re-nationalization)
Source: Castro (2002).
system (Financial Times Global Water Report 2000a; 2000b; Crespo 2002a).
All former ECAPAG workers were dismissed and selectively rehired by IWL.
After long negotiations Guayaquil Interagua agreed to contract most of the
former employees, to provide training to those hired, and assistance and train-
ing for those who would not be re-hired. Both training programmes were
funded by an Inter-American Development Bank loan, through its Workers
Transition Program. However, the company broke the agreement and con-
tracted only about 20% of former employees. Workers are now taking legal
action against the company (Hall and Lobina 2002; Acosta 2002). The World
Banks Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) signed a US$18
million guarantee in March 2001, offering protection for the investment
against the risk of expropriation, war, and civil disturbance, and also covers a
performance bond. This was the rst time that MIGA had guaranteed a water
project (Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency 2002), and it provides
nancial security from risk for the privatized water concession of IWL. Of
course, ultimately, this risk is also covered by the public purse. IWL had a dis-
astrous experience in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where the privatized company was
re-socialized after massive public protests, which took on a national signi-
cance and almost toppled the government, with a number of people being
killed by the police (Gleick et al. 2002). After this, it became increasingly nec-
essary for the World Bank and other organizations to insure private invest-
ments in the water sector against such eventualities that might jeopardize the
long-term protability of the investment.
In the privatization contract, IWL offered to create 55,238 new connections
in the rst ve years, achieve 95% service coverage by year ten of the conces-
sion, and invest US$520 million in the last 25 years of the period (Financial
Times Information). It would be more than a miracle if they were able to
achieve this. Operations of the private company started in April 2002. On 4
September 2002, El Universo reported that only 30% of the customers pay their
water bill. The price charged by the tanqueros for a tank of 200 litres of water
stands now at US$0.80. After more than 100 years of some sort of public water
supply, the Guayaquileos are now drinking water supplied for prot. The
water of the River Daule is now owing through privately organized water sys-
tems that turn water into prots for globally organized private companies.
6.3 Conclusion: whose water?
In sum, the position of the water supply system in much of Latin America is
caught between the political economic forces operating at the urban level, the
struggle at the level of the state with respect to the allocation and distribution
of resources, and the dependent position of these countries within the interna-
tional division of labour. The above analysis does nevertheless suggest that the
132 Contradictions of Urban Water Provision
operation of the hydraulic system cannot be analysed independent from its
organizational and institutional congurations and the relations of power that
structure them.
Up to 50% of Latin Americas urban population has no, limited, or only
extremely difcult and costly access to water, natures most important element.
We have argued that the characteristics of public water provision prevailing in
most Latin American countries produce, at least in part, these exclusionary
conditions of water accessibility. These practices are the result of a series of
interconnected processes:
1. A particular form of controlling nature by means of large-scale, hierar-
chically organized and controlled, and technology intensive infrastructures.
These forms of engineering nature imply a set of social power mechanisms
aimed at providing unlimited quantities of low-cost water to the urban elites.
2. A management system suffering from chronic decits, as a result of less-
than-cost-pricing. This prevents auto-nancing of maintenance and service
expansions, and results in a position of dependence on international lending
3. The dominance of a productivist logic which results in a disproportion-
ally important emphasis on water production and conduction and a relative
negligence of maintenance, organizational reform, sewage treatment and, in
particular, the thorny and controversial issue of just distribution.
4. The resulting tensions and contradictions cleared the way for the privati-
zation wave of water and sewerage systems.
In short, the unequal access to water and the exclusionary practices of local
water politics perpetuate and strengthen a system, which, in the end, is the
result of a political economic organization whose ofcial aim is to eradicate the
exclusionary practices it produced in the rst place. The issues raised in this
chapter point to key questions with respect to sustainable urban development
in the Third World. Water is essential material for maintaining bodily and
social life. Yet, the political ecology of urban water provision does exclude large
segments of the population from natures water. Therefore, the issue of sus-
tainable urban development must raise the questions of Whose water? and
Whose city?. The management of natures water and the management of the
urban as a process of natures transformation must ask questions about a just
distribution of the available resources. And this requires a greater democrati-
zation of exactly the socio-natural metabolic processes through which nature
becomes urbanized.
Elements for a sustainable, emancipatory, and empowering urban water cir-
culation system include political, ecological, managerial, production, distribu-
tion, and supply considerations. In the rst instance, it is imperative that the
productivist logic and the ideology of the proclaimed need to provide unlim-
ited quantities of water to every urban resident is replaced by a water manage-
ment system based on a more equitable distribution of a resource, a resource
Contradictions of Urban Water Provision 133
whose scarcity is politically and economically constructed and cultivated. A
managerial and planning system concerned with distributional issues is of vital
importance. This would simultaneously question existing power relations in
the city and inevitably raise the critical questions of Whose water? and
Whose city? we are talking about. Challenging the systematically uneven
power that characterizes both formal and informal water supply systems in the
Latin American city requires a closer cooperation of the local people in the
management of and control over nature and its water. Increased and improved
citizen participation, and the reversal of the productivist bias could lead to a
reorientation of water politics to one based on considerations of equal distrib-
ution and just accessibility. In particular, those who are dependent on private
door-to-door water selling by water vendors pay the price for this uneven dis-
tribution of water. This is the theme we shall turn to next.
134 Contradictions of Urban Water Provision
The Water Lords:
Speculators in Water
7.1 The private local water economy
As already documented in Chapter 3, more than 600,000 of Guayaquils
inhabitants depend on the tanqueros for their daily supply of water. Private
water vending is of course not a recent phenomenon. It was a common activity
in the time of the Incas, and became the standard means of urban water provi-
sion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With the introduction of urban
water engineering systems in the late nineteenth century water distribution
became increasingly organized by the state, while new engineering practices
aimed to provide the entire city with access to water. However, with the excep-
tion of a few years after the opening of the La Lolita treatment station in 1928,
Guayaquil never really succeeded in achieving the objective of full coverage.
Nevertheless, the aim of providing unlimited quantities of potable water for all
of the urban population at a marginal (highly subsidized) price was never
abandoned, and has been built into successive Master Plans until this very
day. The political economic realities of Guayaquils urbanization process ran
counter to this objective, for reasons discussed in previous chapters. Although
the plans always held up the promise of unlimited and guaranteed water
supply, a promise which served very important political and ideological
functions as it deected potential social unrest, cultivated clientelist political
programmes, and contributed to legitimizing privatization, a growing number
of people became systematically excluded from access to publicly provided
Particularly during the period 196090, there was a growing gap in water
coverage. Whereas 73% of the urban population was connected to the public
water system in 1974, this declined to just 64% in 1990. In absolute terms,
222,269 people were deprived of connections in 1974, but by 1990 this number
had risen to 596,013 (according to conservative INEC data). According to the
1980 Master Plan, 75 to 80% of the metropolitan population was connected to
the supply system in 1980, while only 20% was serviced by tank lorries (224,964
people). This means that there has been an almost threefold increase in the
number of people who are dependent on private water purchases in just over
little more than a decade (EMAP-G 1980: Cuadro 4.416).
A growing army of tanqueros serviced these people, who were invariably
living in the new invasion settlements of Guasmo, Suburbio, Bastion Popular,
Isla Trinitaria, and several other more recent invaded land settlements.
According to the 1980 Master Plan, the average daily delivery of water by
tanqueros amounted to 3,050m/day (EPAP-G 1991a), approximately
2,700m/day in the metropolitan area alone. A few years later (1982), the vol-
ume distributed by tanqueros had risen to 8,702m/day (Universidad Catolica
1982: 1), and by 1992, this gure had increased further to an average of
12,000m/day. Demand for water is considerably higher in the wet season
(winter months), with a peak in January, and lowest in the dry season (running
from May until December). The highest demand for tanquero water was in
January with an average daily supply of 14,591m/day, falling to about
8,371m/day in July (data for 1992). Ofcial data for two months in 1992 are
shown in Table 7.2.
This suggests that the average daily per capita consumption of water in the
areas supplied by tanqueros is 20 litres per day per person. Of course, these
data are based on ofcial statistics, whose accuracy is notoriously unreliable
and usually underestimate the real situation. The immense fraud with and theft
of water is not included in these data. According to EPAP-G estimates, only
37% of the water is accounted for and 17% is stolen (see Chapter 6).
136 Speculators in Water
Fig. 7.1. Turning H
O into money.
In 1990, there were a total of 383 tankers of which 302 supplied households,
while 81 were registered as industrial water suppliers, whereas by 1992, 420
privately owned tankers operated at the ve lling stations (see Table 7.1 and
Plate 7.1). In addition, illegal vendors on tricycles sell water in smaller quanti-
ties (10 litre buckets sold for approximately 200 sucres in 1992 values) in areas
Speculators in Water 137
Table 7.1. Number of tanqueros active in the city
of Guayaquil, 1992
Filling station Number
271 (+36
Duran 34
Via a Daule 8
/2 41
Via a Daule 12
/2 33
Via a Daule 16
/2 41
TOTAL 420 (+36)
The lling station of Bellavista was relocated to Via a la Costa km 10
in April 1993.
These 36 belong to the Defensa Civil. They currently use (together
with other tankers belonging to public services) the Chlorinadora at
the Universidad Estatal as their lling station.
Source: EPAP-G.
Plate 7.1. Tanqueros lling their water lorries at the lling station.
with serious shortages. Some of the smaller towns on the Peninsula, such as
Salinas, Libertad, and Playas, are supplied by 129 tankers that deliver water to
households and an additional 53 suppliers of industrial water. A total of nine
water boats supply the shrimp factories and customers on boats and islands
(data from EPAP-G). In short, over 600 tankers are active in the area covered
by EPAP-Gs water supply region.
With an average daily delivery of 28.5m/day and an average carrying capac-
ity of 7.4m/tanker, they each do on average four or ve delivery trips each day
(although daily delivery rounds can vary from as few as two or three to more
than ten). In contrast, only about 102 tankers were active in the city in 1979
approximately one-sixth of the number operational 13 years later. This prolif-
eration of private water sellers indicates the spiralling severity of the urban
water crisis.
7.2 Selling water door to door: making money from
monopolizing nature
The quasi-monopoly control held by these private water vendors over a key
biological and social commodity allows for a massive concentration of social
and economic power in their hands. This is most vividly illustrated by analysing
the water rents that can be extracted by the water vendors as a result of their
exclusive access to potable water. First of all, there is an enormous discrepancy
between the water price charged by the public water authorities for those that
can enjoy the luxury of domesticated water and the price charged by private
water vendors.
Table 7.3 shows the multiples of price charged by private urban water
vendors in comparison with the ofcial price charged by the public water util-
138 Speculators in Water
Table 7.2. Distribution of water by tankers in
January and July 1992
January July
Volume water (m) 364,775 209,288
Volume water/day 14,591 8,371
Number of trips 47,781 25,538
Trips/day 1,911 1,021
Trips/tanker/day 4.55 2.43
Value (million sucres)
25.53 15.09
Exchange rates: Jan. 1992: 1US$ = 1,323 sucres; July 1992:
1US$ = 1,504 sucres.
Source: Data from registration lists of tanqueros at EPAP-G.
ity as well as the price charged per cubic metre for a number of cities in the
developing world. In Guayaquil, private water vendors buy water from EPAP
at 70 sucres/m and this is sold (in September 1993) for 4,000 to 6,000 sucres/m
(800 to 1,200 sucres for a tank of 55 gallons or 200 litres). In the case of
Guayaquil, the multiple can be up to 300 in 1993 if compared with the basic
tariff charged by EPAP-G for households using less than 15m of water each
month. This alone indicates that poor urban residents have to pay up to
30,000% (thirty thousand per cent) more for their water (of an inferior quality)
than the higher income residents living in urban sectors served by the public
water system. In the context of a minimum wage (for those who have the luxury
of being formally employed) of 60,000 sucres (US$30) per month, an average
family of four with one income earner on minimum wage, using about 100 litres
of water a day, would spend US$7.50 per month on purchasing water (or 25%
of its disposable income). According to the Master Plan, in 1979 an average
family of four would spend 173 sucres (US$6.22) per month on water pur-
chased from tanqueros (EMAP 1980: cuadro 8.8). In 2002, the price to the con-
sumer for a delivery of 200 litres had increased to US$0.80 (although this
ofcially set price is often arbitrarily increased by the water vendors). For an
Speculators in Water 139
Table 7.3. Price multiples and water prices charged by water vendors,
mid-1970s to 1980s and 2001 (unless otherwise indicated)
City Country Multiples of water Water price
charged by public US$/m 1988
water utility
Data for mid-1970s to 1980s
Port au Prince Haiti 17100
Tegucigalpa Honduras 1634
Peru 17 2050 intis
Colombia 28 2.00
Mexico City
Mexico 40114 400 pesos
Guayaquil Ecuador 200300 2.113.16
Ecuador 27 1.702.00
Barquisimeto Venezuela 1.001.40
Cochabamba Bolivia 1.40
Data for 2001
Baranquilla Colombia 1012 5.506.40
Guatamala City Guatamala 710 2.704.50
Lima Peru 810 2.40
Ecuador 3.20
Bolivia 5 2.40
El Alto
Bolivia 16 3.30
World Bank (1989: Table 3.2, p.70);
Vsconez (1991: 51);
Crespo (2002a: 111 and 117);
Komives (2001);
Solo (2001: 2);
Barranquilla (date 1989) Bernal (1991: 154),
Mexico City (date 1983)
Bataillon and Panabire (1988);
Guayaquil from eld work (1993);
Quitos multiple (date 1987)
Vsconez (1988a);
Limas water price (date June 1987) Espinoza and Oliden (1988: 57).
average family of four, using on average 25 litres per person per day, the total
monthly cost amounts to US$12.40 in 2002, a considerable cost for the major-
ity of families living in the invasion settlements.
Table 7.4 shows the tariffs charged by EPAP-G. The basic tariff for domestic
water usage (less than 15m/month) remains xed, while the increments are
subject to a monthly increase of 3% for domestic uses and 4% for commercial
and industrial uses. Even households that consume more than 300m of
water/month pay considerably less (13 times less) than those who are depen-
dent on the tanqueros. In addition, a xed sum is added for maintenance. This
value varies depending on the diameter of the supply pipe. The base rate is 70
sucres (for
/2) and moves up to respectively 100 sucres for
/4 pipes, 300 sucres
for 1, and a maximum of 3,500 sucres for a pipe of 6. Moreover, residential
users pay an additional 78% of their water charge to cover sewerage costs.
Commercial users pay an increment of 96% and industrial users 101%.
The increasingly acute water supply crisis gives the tanqueros a uniquely
powerful economic position in the urban economy. They buy the water from
EPAP-G at a highly subsidized price. Until 1987, the price per cubic meter paid
by the water vendors was 8.4 sucres, a price that had remained unchanged since
at least 1979 (EMAP 1980). In 1990, the price had risen to 15 sucres/m for
domestic water and 70 sucres/m for industrial water. Because of fraudulent
practices (selling water bought as domestic water to industry), the water price
in the city was increased to 70 sucres/m for all usages in October 1991. Despite
140 Speculators in Water
Plate 7.2. Selling water by the barrel.
attempts by the governor of the province to set maximum prices for a tank of
200 litres (55 gallons), the private water vendors are able to increase water
prices arbitrarily. In 2000, an attempt was made to establish ofcial prices,
although these remain high for the customer. In September 2002, the tanqueros
were buying water from the water company at US$0.33 for 1,000 litres and sell-
ing it to the urban residents at US$0.80 for a 200-litre (55 gallons) tank, a gross
prot rate of almost 90%.
Table 7.5 shows the recent evolution of the real water price asked by the
water vendors expressed in current dollar terms. The prices listed are standard
prices, but these are frequently increased arbitrarily, for example under condi-
tions of scarcity. Moreover, prices tend to go up in areas further away from the
lling stations. For example, in Isla Trinitaria, prices tend to be 10 to 25%
higher than elsewhere. A eld survey in September 1993 indicated a price range
varying from 800 sucres in Duran, 1,000 sucres for water from the Via a Daule
lling station (for Bastion Popular and surrounding settlements) and 1,200
sucres for water coming from the new lling station located at Via a la Costa km
10. Over half of the tank lorries are lled up at this station. The price can go up
Speculators in Water 141
Table 7.4. EPAP-G tariff structure for residential water use, October 1988,
December 1992, September 1993
Value (sucre/m/month) Oct. 88 Dec. 91 Dec. 92 Sept. 93
Residential use
Basic tariff
1630 30 92 131 171.6
3160 40 124 175 228.8
61100 50 155 220 286.0
100300 60 186 264 343.2
>300 70 214 307 400.3
Commercial use
Basic tariff
900 6,396
1650 70 498
51100 80 568
101300 90 639
>300 100 711
Industry average, Types AC
Basic tariff
1,350 9,593
1650 100 711
51100 110 781
101300 127 924
>300 143 1,066
The monthly increments for domestic water use increase are 3% and 4% for commercial and industrial
Each industry is placed in one of three categories on the basis of its water requirements.
Sources: EPAP-G (see also EMAP-G 1988).
to 1,500 sucres for 200 litres in Isla Trinitaria. By 2000, after the dollarization
of the economy, the price was set at US$0.80.
The data also indicate that the real price for water (in dollar parity terms) has
gone up, particularly during the past few years. The combination of galloping
ination, national government austerity measures, rising cost structures
(notably for gasoline), and growing water scarcity allowed water vendors to
raise their prices indiscriminately. By the end of 1993, the private water price
had risen to between US$2 and US$3 for 1,000 litres and continued to rise
afterwards. The difference between the purchase price of water (70 sucres for
1,000 litres) and the sale price (between 4,000 and 6,000 sucres for 1,000 litres)
has increased from 230 sucres in October 1990 to 5,930 sucres in 1993 for the
case of Guasmo, Suburbio, and Isla Trinitaria. This corresponds to an increase
in dollar terms from US$0.20 to US$3.20. By 2002, the wholesale price of
water was US$0.33 per 1,000 litres, which would retail at US$3.20, a gross
margin of US$2.87 for each 1,000 litres sold.
7.3 The water power of the tanqueros
It goes without saying that the water vendors wield substantial economic
power. As a result of their quasi-monopoly position in delivering water in the
areas not covered by the ofcial network, they are able to extract sizeable
142 Speculators in Water
Table 7.5. Evolution of ofcial and real water prices (for a tank of 55 gallons
or 200 litres)
Date Ofcial price Real price in Exchange rate Real price
in sucres sucres sucres/US$ in US$
1976 2.50 27.45 0.09
13/08/79 4.00/8.00 27.80 0.14/0.29
07/09/87 60.00 193.8 0.31
14/07/88 60 80.00 436.2 0.18
24/04/89 120.00 569.2 0.21
05/07/89 150.00 600.0 0.25
23/05/90 150 200.00 821.5 0.24
20/03/91 250.00 1,014.0 0.25
14/07/91 200 300.00 1,119.0 0.27
31/08/91 250
06/06/92 400.00 1,477.0 0.27
11/09/92 400 700.00/800.00 1,828.0 0.38/0.44
11/11/92 450
22/04/93 550 800.00/1,200.00 1,895.0 0.42/0.63
June 2002 0.80
Sources: Newspapers, eld work, interviews, Plan Maestro.
amounts of water rents from the poorest segments of the urban population. On
the basis of an average price of US$0.80 for 200 litres (which is considerably
higher in some areas) and an average daily delivery of 12,000m, the poorest
communities pay daily US$48,000 to the water vendors. On an annual basis
(300 working days), the total annual cost of water borne by the 600,000 resi-
dents who do not have access to water amounts to US$14.4 million. In 1993,
the estimated total annual return to the private water-vending industry was
US$9.5 million, and by 2001 the annual income transfer from the most mar-
ginal segments of the urban population to the water vendors under the form of
monopoly water rents had increased by more than 50%.
This means that the average gross annual income for each tanker truck rose
from about US$22,619 in 1993 to an estimated US$32,285 in 2001, based on an
estimated total of 420 tanqueros. At a more conservative estimate of 305
privately owned trucks (based on EPAP-data for October 1992), the gross
turnover for each truck is US$47,200. As suggested by the data in Table 7.6,
some tanqueros own more than one tanker. Consequently, their annual
turnover has to be multiplied by the number of tanker trucks they own. The
data for this table were collected on the basis of the ofcially registered names
of tanker owners at EPAP-G. Clearly, it may well be the case that real owner-
ship patterns vary as there may be a discrepancy between the list of formal
owners as provided by EPAP-G and the real (but hidden) ownership structure.
According to these data, only 136 owners reported one tanker ownership, the
others controlled more than one and 21 registrants owned more than three
In order to assess net protability, we have to estimate the actual cost per
200-litre tank of water. Over the past few years, a number of organizations have
attempted to estimate the real cost of selling water by means of tank lorries. In
order to compare the various estimates, which were undertaken at various
times during a period of hyperination, we shall use current dollar values in
order to compare the various calculations. The most comparable data were
available for a period during the early 1980s. Of course, average cost calcula-
tions depend largely on assumptions and estimates of average tanker capacity
and average number of daily rounds. Table 7.7 shows the results of various
Speculators in Water 143
Table 7.6. Ownership structure of water-vending
trucks in 1992
Number of trucks owned: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Number of cases: 134 60 15 14 4 1 0 2
Institutions: 23
Note: These data exclude the trucks operated by the Defensa Civil.
Source: EPAP-G.
calculations. The source of these calculations varies from the Asociacin de
Tanqueros, the Defensa Civil, the Frente de Usuarios to the Federacin de
Barrios Suburbanos de Guayaquil (FEDEBAS-G). Clearly, each of these
groups represents different interests and objectives and, consequently, their
estimates and assumptions vary accordingly.
The estimates of the Defensa Civil exclude investment costs and are, there-
fore, the least useful. The other cost estimates vary from US$0.14 to US$0.28
per 200-litre tank. The median cost calculation is US$0.21. Our own estimate,
based on interviews and cost calculations, also points at this average as a rea-
sonably accurate estimate of the cost structure of private water vending. On the
basis of this, we can calculate total prots and rent extraction generated from
the private appropriation and distribution of natures water.
The average daily distribution of 12,000m water gives a total cost of
US$12,600/day or US$3,780,000/year (7.16 billion sucres at 1993 rates). The
annual net prot from water vending can be calculated at US$5.72 million. For
144 Speculators in Water
Table 7.7. Comparison of average cost per tank of 200 litres of water
in current sucres and US$
Source and date of calculations
Frente de FEDEBAS Asociacin Defensa
6/92 9/92 9/93
Tanqueros Civil
20/9/90 11/9/92
24/9/90 4/9/92
Average capacity 8 7 8 8 10 7.5 10
Number of rounds/day 9 10 8 8 8 8 5
Number of tanks sold 346 350 320 320 400 280 225
Vehicles (million sucres) 25 50 25 30 140* 35
Depreciation period (years) 10 10 5 5 8 10
Depreciation of vehicles 8,333 20,000 16,733 20,000 58,333 11,644
(costs per day)
Operating costs per day:
Vehicle maintenance 8,500 23,300 17,090 20,508 13,613 21,952
Wages 12,000 20,000 21,400 28,000 27,000 14,400 8,666
Gasoline 9,720 39,420 17,640 40,880 46,720 14,400 29,200
Other 500 13,000 500
Water cost 1,080 4,410 960 960 5,600 900 750
Cost of 200-litre tank:
In nominal sucres 115.99 287.00 227.00 344.80 410.60 227.62
In US$ 0.14 0.16 0.16 0.19 0.22 0.28 0.07
Exchange rate, sucre/US$ 821.91 1,828.00 1,477.00 1,828.00 1,895.00 821.91 1,828.00
*New Vehicles.
Sources: Asociacin de Tanqueros 25 de Octubre (1990); Federacin de Barrios Suburbanos de Guayaquil (FEDEBAS-G)
(1992a,b; 1993); Hoy, 22 April 1993; Frente de Usuarios del Guasmo (1990; 1992); Comit Ejecutivo Pro Agua Potable para
el Suburbio Oeste (1989).
each individual tank lorry, the annual cost is US$12,393, which when related to
an annual turnover of US$31,148 gives an average annual prot of about
US$18,755 (35.54 million sucres) for each of the tanqueros (data for 1993). For
those who own more that one tank lorry, this average annual prot has to be
multiplied by the number of tankers owned. These water prots compare with
a minimum national wage of 60,000 sucres/month (in 1993) or, if we include
earnings from the informal economy, an average monthly family income of
about 150,000 sucres (of 1993) in the marginal areas of the Guayaquil (based
on interview and questionnaire data).
This transfer of value, extracted from the poorest communities, inevitably
ends up in dollar accounts in Guayaquils or Miamis banks. It is a suggestive
analysis of how natures water is socially transformed into the power of money,
which, through water rent extraction, is transferred from the poor residents to
the water speculators. This capital, then, often disappears from the economy
through the transfer of sucres into dollars as a shield against ination (before
the dollarization of the economy). Ironically, the Miami dollar-holding
accounts, in turn, often nd their way back into the economy by means of
international lending mechanisms. This circulation of money and water tells
the story of how these loans are themselves nanced through the appropriation
of Ecuadors nature, the interest on which has to be matched by a further
extraction and transformation of natures resources.
Indeed, this analysis shows how the appropriation of natures water implies
a socially highly stratied mechanism of access to nature. Natures water is
hereby turned not only into stuff for satisfying human thirst but also into a
vehicle for exploitation and the generation of social power. The urbanization
and urban circulation of water embody a series of mechanisms that generate,
consolidate, and reafrm mechanisms of marginalization, exclusion, and
domination. While the marginal settlements grew out of speculative develop-
ments and the occupation of marginal lands sold at very low prices for clien-
telist political reasons (10 sucres/m`), the actual costs of occupying this land
are multiplied many times through the extraction of extortionate water rents
by water vendors. Moreover, the growing social scarcity of water solidies the
power of water and intensies the sway of the water owners over the life and
health of the urban population.
7.4 Private water vending/state control:
an ambiguous symbiosis
Until early 2001, Guayaquils urban water supply system was characterized
by an ambiguous public/private relationship. While the transformation of
natures water was a wholly public activity during the twentieth century, the
urbanization of water was structured through a combination of a centralized
Speculators in Water 145
public system and a decentralized private system. Ironically, the public system
supplied the more powerful industrial and social strata, while the poor were
serviced through a private system of quasi-formal or informal water vending.
Consequently, an ambiguous relationship developed between public produc-
tion and supply on the one hand and private distribution on the other. In order
to assess this relationship, we rst have to turn to the nancial and budgetary
situation of EPAP-G, the recently privatized water supply company. The
process of privatizing this company displaces these ambiguities, while perpetu-
ating a condition of signicant inequality in access.
7.4.1 Public water sales: subsidizing the rich
In order to assess the real cost of producing a cubic metre of potable water, we
have to distinguish between operating costs and investment costs. EPAP-G was
an organization that ran signicant decits, and whose running costs massively
outweighed the income generated from water sales (see also Faudry 1997). For
the moment, we shall exclude investment costs and concentrate on running
costs. Table 7.8 summarizes average running water production costs at various
times. Data are from various sources as well. In the rst half of the 1980s
146 Speculators in Water
Table 7.8. The average income and expenditure structure
of EPAP-Gs water production
1979 1982 1990 1991
Source Master Plan Universidad EPAP EPAP
Catolica Finance
Running expenditures 9.6 13.6 16.94
per m produced 0.12 0.08 0.096
per m sold 0.20 0.20 0.26
Water sales (US$m) 9.64 12.35
Other (US$m) 2.28 0.56
Per m sold 0.21 0.20
Loans 9.7
IETEL or EMETEL 1.54 2.66
FONAP 0.52
Emergency contributions 32.13
Other 1.3 1.26
TOTAL INCOME 22.9 49.2
Total cost/m water:
produced (in US$/m) 0.27 0.28
sold (in US$/m) 0.36 0.75
(before the upgrading of La Toma), the average cost of producing a cubic
metre of water varied between US$0.12 and US$0.14. After the upgrading of
La Toma to an average daily production capability of 480,000m, the average
running costs fell to between US$0.08 and US$0.096/m. However, as a result
of the enormous physical and commercial losses, the actual average cost of a
cubic metre of water was considerably higher and uctuated between US$0.20
(in 1979 when the average loss amounted to 40%) and US$0.26 in 1991 (when
losses had risen to 63% of total production). With the exception of high-
volume consumers, the price paid by the consumers was far below the actual
cost of producing the water. In 1991, the income generated by EPAP-G from
selling water was on average US$0.20 per litre, while the cost was US$0.26.
If we add investment costs and the repayment of interests and loans to this,
the actual decit was quite considerable. This suggests that the real cost of pro-
ducing and distributing water was considerably higher than the revenue gener-
ated from water sales. The difference had to be made up through a variety of
taxes, which, in the end, have to be paid by the whole of the population. These
included a variety of local and regional taxes, a 10% contribution from the
Telephone Company IETEL, and emergency loans from the national govern-
ment. The government also had the responsibility of servicing (part of ) EPAP-
Gs debt. Given the highly exclusionary system of water distribution, it is
ultimately the elites and the middle classes who received most benets as they
can enjoy highly subsidized water at a fraction of the real cost of producing and
distributing it. This system of cross-subsidization ultimately has perverse
social effects (Yepes 1999).
These calculations exclude the recovery of the investment costs associated
with expanding and/or upgrading the system. During the early 1990s, two big
projects were implemented. The rst one, nanced through a US$72 million
loan from the Spanish government, was the construction of a new water treat-
ment station next to the existing one at La Toma, which (at least theoretically)
doubled the production capacity to almost 1.5 million m/day. The other pro-
ject concerned a US$51.5 million loan from the World Bank to upgrade and
expand the water distribution system. The latter loan was delayed several times
due to EPAP-G failing to comply with World Bank conditions associated with
increased efciency, improved water accounting and the fusion of the sewerage
and water distribution companies (which was eventually completed in mid-
1993). The Inter-American Development Bank nally granted a loan (see
Chapter 6) to facilitate the transition to a privately organized water and sewer-
age system. In the end, of course, the public pays for the cost of privatization,
as these loans have to be serviced by the state. Given the high debt burden of
the Ecuadorean state, these loans accentuate an already precarious nancial
In addition to these loans, EPAP-Gs programme of investments until the
end of 1994 amounted to a total of US$122.6 million, as well as 69.96 billion
sucres (of 1992) equivalent to a further US$47.2 million. At the time, it was
Speculators in Water 147
estimated that a total investment requirement of over US$170 million was
needed just to service the most urgent needs (EPAP-G 1992a). Clearly,
Ecuadors problematic position in the international nancial system rendered
it quite impossible to raise such investment capital on the international nan-
cial markets. It was already evident that the majority, if not all, of these
planned investments needed to be shelved indenitely. However, these plans
served important ideological and political functions by suggesting that the
government is indeed taking charge of the problems and that solutions are
imminent. The only stumbling block is the international community, which is
not sufciently forthcoming with aid or loans! Eventually, the conundrum
faced by the state also helped to pave the way for privatization. The private
sector and the privatization of water supply became staged as the panacea that
would nally solve the enduring problems of the citys inadequate urbaniza-
tion of water.
7.4.2 Maintaining the status quo: the ideology of underdevelopment
Of course, the public water authoritys decits resulted in perpetual depen-
dence on external nancial sources to cover shortfalls in running costs as well
as to nance new projects. This precarious nancial position led to a deterio-
rating water supply system and the perpetuation of exclusionary practices. As
discussed in Chapter 6, the emphasis on producing water led to a preoccupa-
tion with ambitious production facilities while management, maintenance, and
distribution remained relatively neglected. The emphasis on major projects
served as an ideological smokescreen that enabled lip service to be paid to a
developmental discourse while putting the blame for the problems on external
factors. The new water treatment station at La Toma is a good illustration
of this (EPAP-G 1991b). The absence of distribution networks, combined
with the enormous physical and commercial losses, led to an only marginal
improvement of water accessibility for those who were hitherto excluded from
access to potable water. While the discourse staged by EPAP-G maintained
that the new plant would provide a panacea for the citys water problems, the
population in the marginal settlements would remain excluded unless a drastic
reorganization of the distribution system were to take place.
Ironically, the tanqueros applaud these developments, as they represent the
opportunity for them to maintain their water monopoly in the marginal settle-
ments. The preoccupation with producing water maintains the power position
of the tanqueros in terms of their control over distribution in the marginal set-
tlements. Yet, at the same time, the income generated from distributing water in
these settlements would be sufcient to nance all necessary water infrastruc-
ture works. In 1993, the estimated annual payment for water from the 600,000
excluded inhabitants amounted to US$9.5 million (18 billion sucres) for an
average daily distribution of 12,000m water, an amount which doubled during
the subsequent decade. This shows that residents, if threatened with death from
148 Speculators in Water
thirst, show a very high willingness to pay for water. In 1991, EPAPs total
income from selling water (excluding payments made for installations) was
almost 14 billion sucres, or US$12.35 million (for an average daily distribution
of 440,000m (97% of the available water) ). If the water utility were capable of
capturing the income now appropriated by the water vendors, self-nancing
would be a highly realistic prospect.
In sum, the investment and project policy pursued by EPAP-G perpetuated
the chronic dependence of the marginal settlements on private supply systems,
whilst the continued structural exclusion leads to a massive drain of resources
from the marginal communities to the private water vendors. No wonder,
therefore, that the water vendors support EPAP-Gs policies as well as the pri-
vatization process, as they are the best guarantee that the private vending
monopoly will continue in the future. This chain of processes locks the urban
poor into a condition of structural underdevelopment and results in an uneasy
alliance between the political elites on the one hand and the private water
monopoly holders on the other.
7.5 Privatizing the contradictions of urban water supply
The proponents of the privatization process promise an end to the practice of
lorry-based door-to-door vending of water and a more efcient and effec-
tive water delivery. However, the contradictions of urban water supply in
Guayaquil remain as acute as ever, with the supply of water becoming part of
the investment decisions and strategic considerations of a global utilities com-
pany. In January 2001, a private 30-year concession was awarded that became
operational in April 2002 (see Chapter 6). As documented in the previous chap-
ter, the contractual conditions of the new privatized management system look
promising, yet the practice of private water vending has not disappeared. At
the same time, the protability of the private company depends on the twin
conditions of increasing water rates on the one hand (the permission for rate
increases is performance-related) and the successful improvement in the pay-
ment of water bills (which remains a formidable obstacle). While the state can
now transfer blame for inadequate water supply onto the private company, the
inequalities of access to urban potable water are likely to remain for the fore-
seeable future and the private water vending economy will continue to thrive.
Under these conditions, in which a signicant proportion of the urban
population is engaged in a difcult daily quest for water, it is no surprise that
intense urban social struggles develop over water availability and distribution.
It is these struggles that we shall turn to in our next chapter.
Speculators in Water 149
Contested Waters: Rituals of
Resistance and Water Activism
Whiskeys for drinking, waters for ghting about.
(Mark Twain)
The discussion in the previous chapters has shown how water is deeply em-
bedded in the practice of everyday urban life, and how the uneven power over
its control and the oppression caused by its absence result in it being highly
contested terrain. A wide spectrum of social conicts and struggles conse-
quently unfold over the appropriation of and access to metabolized urban
water; struggles that are embedded in and embody social, political, and eco-
nomic power relations. Put simply, the transformation of nature and the
urbanization of natures water express the political economic and socio-eco-
logical power relations that shape the urbanization process itself. The urban
hydrosocial cycle is indeed infused with a myriad of social tensions and is con-
tested terrain at each moment of its ow. We shall consider not only the strate-
gies of the weak and the weapons they deploy, but also the tactics of the water
vendors. Their control over water enables them to mobilize a range of tactics to
maintain if not expand their hold over water and the appropriation of water
rents. This chapter will explore these multifaceted dimensions of the social
struggles around water and their political, economic and social signicance.
8.1 Urban social struggles and the citizen
The most striking, if least powerful, actions are those waged by urban commu-
nities to gain or improve access to water. From the position of those facing
oppressive mechanisms of water supply, four strategies have been identied
(see, among others, Espinoza and Oliden 1988): passive acceptance, individual
resistance, self-help, and social protest/mobilization.
8.1.1 Passive acceptance
Notwithstanding the immense problems associated with problematic access to
water, acceptance of the exclusive and/or exploitative status quo is very often
the most common behaviour, resulting in the absence of collective action.
Cotic and Dascal (1987) suggest that the nature of an eventual possible, but
essentially private solution (i.e. domestic connection to a comprehensive
networked system), results in passive acceptance as a particular form of
response. While the demand for the provision of roads, schools, health services,
or public transport is often subject to collective action and struggle, water (and
waste disposal (Olaya 1991) ) has rarely resulted in popular and collective
revolts. In the case of Guayaquil, water shortages are at the top of the agenda
of many residents of the invasion settlements, although their precarious eco-
nomic and political condition renders them powerless in the face of the per-
ceived dimensions of the problem. The overwhelming majority of the urban
population in these settlements is faced with the everyday struggle for survival
that leaves very little time, money and/or energy for collective and organized
Despite these constraints, water issues do become important arenas for
urban social struggle. A whole host of power strategies unfolds around water
and structures the rituals of everyday life as well as wider urban and national
political economic processes.
8.1.2 Individual resistance
Many forms of active, but basically individual, resistance shape the day-to-day
struggle for water. These actions vary from the construction of illegal connec-
tions, the installation of water pumps to suck water from the underpressurized
mains, and theft of water, to arguments with water vendors or the water utili-
ties and, above all, playing on the intricate but deeply entrenched clientelist net-
works through which political afliation, power, and control are established,
exercised, and maintained. Such strategies are clearly divisive, inherently con-
servative, and feed an individualized, fragmented, and divisive urban political
economy based on personal relations, favours, and rewards. In Guayaquil, ille-
gal water connections and water theft are part of the everyday practices used to
gain access to the precious liquid. Numerous newspaper reports suggest that
intricate mechanisms exist to evade regulations and, in some instances, sheer
necessity demands illegal actions of water appropriation. The installation of
pumps to suck water out of mains is a common occurrence. Clearly, extracting
water in this manner increases the danger of contamination and diminishes
water availability downstream of the connection. In addition, breaking pipes
contributes to higher maintenance costs and an increase in the percentage of
water lost through leakage and spillage.
Of course, the powerful have sufcient resources to dig their own wells to tap
underground water. Top hotels and key industries construct their own water
supply system, usually by digging wells and tapping into the aquifer. However,
the unregulated tapping of underground water has unknown effects on the
water table and subterranean water dynamics. In addition, water quality from
Resistance and Water Activism 151
underground aquifers is of varying quality as pollutants of all kinds have
begun to contaminate groundwater sources.
8.1.3 Self-construction and self-nancing
The response to inadequate services and facilities can take the form of cooper-
ative self-organization. This is often aided and actively supported by the state
or quasi- or non-governmental organizations, and is an example of people
claiming their right to the city and to nature in an active, collective, and organ-
ized fashion. Although almost inevitably riddled with conict along the pri-
vate/collective interest on the one hand and along the state/communitarian
cleavage on the other, self-construction does tend to undermine clientelist and
paternalist politics (see Montano and Coing 1991 for Buenos Aires), helps to
dene the problems at a wider social level, and recognizes that the heart of the
problem revolves around wider issues of social reproduction and collective
emancipation (Craske 1993). These forms of self-help may take the form of
collective but illegal community-based water tapping and conduction (see
Ridgley 1989), or may be based on actively soliciting the support of the state
(as in the case of some of the barrios of Quito (see Comite Pro-Agua Potable y
Progreso Comunitario 1990) ) or of international aid organizations (as in the
case of Cusco (Caballero 1991) ). In Guayaquil, local communities, sometimes
in close cooperation with the water authority, have installed community water
taps, which are connected to the mains and are managed on the basis of a
decentralized community system. In 1992, for example, EPAP-G had 109
registered community taps installed which each serviced a number of housing
blocks in housing cooperatives.
In another case, FODUR (Fondacin de Desarollo Urbano), a state-backed
community development organization, has constructed a series of Cisternas
Comunitarias (collective cisterns) in the marginal settlements. This is often
done in close cooperation with local communities, with funding organized
through the state (which provides 80% of FODURs funding) and supple-
mented with income from interest on savings accounts at the Banco de la
Vivienda. These projects are implemented with the help of local people, and
once completed, daily project management is transferred to the water com-
pany. These Cisternas Comunitarias feed a series of up to 40 taps, each of
which services approximately 100 families. The cistern in Prosperina and the
two cisterns in Mapasingue are fed with water pumped uphill from the mains,
while those in Bastion Popular are fed directly from the mains (interview with
C. Vaieharle, Director of FODUR, 20 Oct. 1992). In Guasmo, 47 smaller
Cisternas Comunitarias operate, but as there are no mains in Guasmo these
have to be lled by tanqueros. Although the price for bulk water delivery is
much lower (c.20,000 sucres (in the autumn of 1992) for a load of c.7.5m) than
for individual delivery, tanker lorry owners are not eager to ll the cisterns, and
only serve cisterns after the more protable deliveries to individual households
152 Resistance and Water Activism
are completed. Consequently, their success is rather ambiguous and some of
the cisterns have never really functioned properly. For example, on 11 Novem-
ber 1991, El Universo reported that only two of the 47 cisterns operate nor-
mally. FODUR also demanded funding for the purchase of 100 tanker lorries
to break the monopoly of the private water distribution system, although
this funding has never been forthcoming. In the mid-1990s, an international
NGO began to undermine the monopoly of water vendors by introducing
community-managed water trucks (see Chapter 9).
8.1.4 Urban social struggle and organized grass-roots mobilization
Organized forms of urban social action usually seek a degree of structural
transformation, which [t]he clientelist system could never produce not only
because they [the demands] are too universal (not aimed at rewarding specic
blocks of voters), but also because they seek to formalize the relationship
between the State and its citizens, an event that would threaten the very basis of
power enjoyed by political patrons (Rogers 1992b: 19). In addition to pressur-
ing the state and its organizations to do something, struggle unfolds around the
exploitative and oppressive mechanisms associated with the water vendors
exclusive control over water. These forms of social struggle in the sphere of
reproduction can take a variety of strategies such as mass demonstrations and
action (as seen in Lima) (Zolezzi and Calderon 1985; Espinoza and Oliden
1988), payment strikes, occupations of ofces, road blockages, taking water
ofcials or water vendors as temporary hostages, and preventing normal
task performance (see, for example, Benaiges 1991; Bennett 1988; 1995). In
some cases, like in Cochabamba or Brazil, they can take the form of collective
and generalized protest (Crespo 2002a; de Oliviera Filho 2002).
These struggles can arise spontaneously as wildcat actions, particularly
under conditions of extreme water scarcity. For example, water-meter opera-
tives are occasionally molested during protests against water scarcity. In times
of great shortages as a result of equipment and infrastructure breakdowns or
strikes by tanqueros (see below), residents organize marches to the headquar-
ters of the water company or to water lling stations to demand water and to
exercise their right to nature. Also, water payment strikes are organized to
indicate discontent with the problematic water supply situation (El Telegrafo 4
Dec. 1989). Spontaneous rebellions and outbreaks of violence against tan-
queros (often spilling over into full-scale rioting) do indicate the sensitive
nature of the problem. For example, after the implementation of the austerity
programme by the Sixto government in September 1992, which resulted in the
average price of basic commodities rising by 50% (160% for gasoline and 100%
for privately sold water), large-scale rioting started in a number of
Guayaquileo neighbourhoods such as Bastion Popular and Flor de Bastion.
Tanker lorry drivers were attacked, molested, and robbed, and had to ee while
attempts were made to set re to their lorries. The army had to be called in to
Resistance and Water Activism 153
control the rebellion, more than 30 people were arrested, and the area was mil-
itarized for a number of days until calm was restored (El Universo 15 Sept.
1992) (see also below). After the relocation of one of the lling stations from
Bellavista to the Via a la Costa in May 1993, tanquero owners went on strike
again, resulting in protest marches from residents to EPAPs headquarters. The
rst week of June 1993 was characterized by water-related protests, including
road blockages, tyre burning, and demonstrations (El Tlgrafo 2, 3, and 7
June 1993; El Universo 3 June 1993). During a long period of intense water
shortages in 1998, marches were organized, protests staged, and skirmishes
broke out at water lling stations. Mass demonstrations and gatherings of peo-
ple demanding water at the lling stations are indeed regular occurrences in the
city, just one of many indicators of the intensity of the social struggle that
unfolds over the control of urban water.
In addition, a number of more or less well-established and organized com-
munity organizations and political movements have tried to mobilize popular
movements around the water issue. These organizations, of which the
Federacin de Barrios Suburbanos (FEDEBAS) is the best known in
Guayaquil, seek to unite various smaller neighbourhood-based groups in an
effort to consolidate power and more effectively inuence the states urban
policies (FEDEBAS 1996). They aspire to more universal goals for their
demands; not only a more just distribution of goods and services but also
inclusion in the power structure that determines the pattern of such distribu-
tion (Rogers 1992b: 7). Although it is often difcult for these organizations to
escape links to particular political parties, and enduring systems of political
patronage and clientelism tend to limit their effectiveness as representative
institutions, they are quite effective as tools of political incorporation. Estab-
lished in 1948, FEDEBAS is one of the oldest organizations, and is an urban
social phenomenon dating back to the formation of Suburbio, the oldest inva-
sion settlement which is now formalized. The president of FEDEBAS, Luis
Gomez, admits that in the course of its history, the Federation has not escaped
the pattern of political control and the problem of political incorporation.
Currently, the aim is to direct the struggle in a united and consciously non-
partisan manner, whilst maintaining a deeply committed social position. The
demands made by FEDEBAS address the need to redene the relations
between the state and the residents. Instead of the informal patronclient rela-
tionship of the past with its clientelist emphasis on the local provision of goods
and services by the state, FEDEBAS seeks to institutionalize the duty of the
state, not only to provide quality infrastructure to the residents of the city, but
also to include representatives in the decision-making process leading to the
allocation of urban services. For more than ten years, the area of water provi-
sion has been one of many in which FEDEBAS has been active (interview L.
Gomez 13 August 1993).
Their water-related activities and struggles revolve around a series of issues,
rstly involving direct negotiation with the water company. Five main demands
154 Resistance and Water Activism
are made in this context, which attest to the particular social and political
objectives of this form of grass-roots resistance and struggle (FEDEBAS
1. To set up a community-based management commission including represen-
tatives from the water company, FEDEBAS, Defensa Civil, the military,
and owners of tanker lorries. One of the tasks of the committee would be to
study and implement an ofcial water price.
2. To plan and implement a more efcient system of water distribution in the
suburban areas.
3. To improve the supply of water for the Cisternas Comunitarias.
4. To aim for a better sanitary control of the distributed water.
5. To set up a system to provide cheaper water by means of tanker lorries.
In addition, FEDEBAS lobbies for further infrastructure projects that
would benet the suburban areas, in particular Guasmo and Suburbio. Cur-
rently, they advocate the use of abandoned swimming pools as mini water
reservoirs. For several years they have also advocated the initiation of a US$44
million project to use subterranean water south of the city (the El Chobo pro-
jectsee Plate 8.1) (see Watkins 1991; EPAP-G 1992b), which would benet
the southern parts of the town, Duran, and part of the hinterland.
They also claim that half of the eet of 36 tanker lorries owned by the
Defensa Civil are used to supply hotels and industries. In August 1993, they
charged these consumers 18,500 sucres for 7m, compared to 17,500 sucres for
the same volume for domestic water use or to ll Cisternas Comunitarias.
Finally, FEDEBAS attempts to undermine the private monopoly of the tan-
queros by initiating self-help projects to take community control over water
distribution. They work on a project aimed at acquiring a number of tanker
lorries that would be managed and controlled by the community itself (see
Chapter 9), while maintaining pressure on EPAP-G to take greater control over
water distribution in the marginal settlements.
In addition to these project-based activities, FEDEBAS actively mobilizes
local residents to protest against water scarcity (see Plate 8.1). They have or-
ganized a number of marches through the centre of the city, such as La Mar-
cha del Balde sin Agua in 1987 and again in 1989, and have continued to stage
active protests throughout the 1990s. These marches represent a moment of
solidarity and mobilization, a chance for people to afrm their identity and
their struggle and to express their right to the citys nature. Of course, the rela-
tionship between the state and FEDEBAS is always tenuous, treading a ne
line between the need to negotiate and to be partially co-opted on the one hand
and the need to maintain an independent, mobilizing, and forceful collective
voice and muscle-exing social stance on the other.
Other groups, such as the Comit Pro Agua Potable, loosely associated with
FEDEBAS, were set up to mobilize and organize around the water issue. They
organized a march to the National Congress in Quito in 1988 (El Tlgrafo 4
Resistance and Water Activism 155
Oct. 1988). Marches of this kind to various organizations and state institutions
or to the lling stations to protest against the speculative practices of the tan-
queros are quite a common occurrence. In addition, some pressure organiza-
tions, often more closely associated with political parties, have also taken a lead
role in the struggle for water. For example, the Frente de Usuarios, loosely asso-
ciated with the Partido Socialista Ecuatoriano (PSE), has been active in the
water arena. The PSE itself has also tried to organize popular mobilization,
such as a Marcha contra el Tanquero Ladrn in 1990 (see Plate 8.1). In 1989,
militants of the Movimiento Popular Democratico occupied the ofces of the
water company to protest against ofcial price rises of water (Expreso 7 Dec.
1989). They clearly associated the water problem with ve decades of clientelist
based politics in Guayaquil and the resulting urban institutional chaos. The
public water utility was considered to be a botin politico for whoever is mayor
at the time. Marches and organized protests tend to become more accentuated
at important political moments, such as during mayoral elections, periods of
major policy reform, or, of course, periods of scarcity.
These social struggles around water are, of course, deeply gendered (Bennett
1995; Moser 1987; Radcliffe and Westwood 1993; Stephen 1992). This is clearly
associated with the detailed gender and labour division of water-related activ-
ities in addition to the gendered symbolic meaning (and powers) of water.
Almost without exception, women take a central place in the struggle for
better access to and control over water (Crow 2002). Bennett (1988: 1920;
1995), for example, in her study of women and class struggle around water in
Monterrey, Mexico, shows that women were the primary participants in two-
thirds of the incidents for better water services. Women as the main users of
water in the domestic sphere looked for strategies within their neighbourhoods,
including blocking the streets with tubs, barrels, and their bodies. In addition
to paralysing trafc and commercial and industrial activities they also engaged
in actions affecting the productivity of the water authorities and private water
vendors by seizing personnel and immobilizing trucks. In doing so, they explic-
itly challenge the unequal power over water by attacking water owners and
controllers and expressing the deeply gendered relationships through which the
urbanization of natures water takes place. In Guayaquil, all the private water
vendors are male without a single exception, and men equally take the over-
whelming majority of key positions in the public water authority. There is
consequently a virtually total masculine control over water supply and distri-
bution, with the unsurprising consequence that women take a central place in
the struggle for water. During occupations, street revolts, and other collective
expressions of discontent, women play a pivotal role in leading and organizing
the movement.
All these grass-roots mobilizations and actions raise the issue as to who has
the right to water. Whose water is it? And for whose city! The right to water is
directly related to the right to the city and to the meaning and practice of being
an urban citizen. Yet these grass-roots mobilizations and forms of protest have
156 Resistance and Water Activism
Plate 8.1. Collective social actions around water.
to be understood against the backdrop of the urban political institutions and
the choreography of political power.
8.2 Contested water politics
8.2.1 Water struggles and clientelist politics
The above forms of grass-roots resistance to water deprivation are frequently
highly visible and spectacular. This, however, does not make them any more
effective in the face of the tactics used by those who hold effective political
and/or economic control over water production and distribution. Indeed, the
class tactics and strategies of the state apparatus, the private water vendors, the
water utility company, and upper-class urban residents point towards an out-
right social conict over the control of a key resource and commodity.
The history of clientelist and paternalistic political relations in Guayaquil
prevents these class issues from being turned into class politics by particulariz-
ing and individualizing solutions that are granted in a very piecemeal fashion.
This, in turn, ensures that the water-deprived citizens will be continually depen-
dent on clientelist strategies. For example, when Elsa Bucaram was elected as
Mayor of Guayaquil in 1988, she bought water and distributed it freely in a
number of neighbourhoods in Guasmo and Suburbio to celebrate her election
victory (El Telegrafo 5 May 1988). This is a classic example of clientelist poli-
tics, summed up eloquently by the same Elsa Bucaram: The people always
respond, because it is easy to gain the hearts of the people. . . . It is sufcient to
offer them (public) works (Villavicencio 1988: 11) (my translation).'
Despite this populist gesture, water distribution deteriorated massively and
rapidly during her term in the mayoral ofce, as did the organizational and
administrative structure of the then municipal water authority. Of course, the
acute water problem in the city was associated with ve decades of almost
uninterrupted clientelist politics in the city. The public water utility was con-
sidered and used as a botin politico for mayor and councillors that allowed the
partial satisfaction of popular demands and could be used effectively as a
system of vote-bonding through providing services and jobs. During the 1980s
and 1990s, for example, the payroll of the water company totalled more than
1,500 people, many of whom cashed in their monthly cheques without effec-
tively performing any work (the pipones) (Expreso 8 Dec. 1989). It was not
until there was a change of mayor in 1992 that hundreds of these pipones were
deleted from the municipal and EPAPs list of employees. Yet, the practice sur-
faced again a few months later. The transfer of authority over the water utility
from a municipal to a provincial institution in 1989 was a not entirely success-
158 Resistance and Water Activism
' El pueblo siempre nos responde, porque el corazn del pueblo es fcil ganrselo . . . basta que Usted
le haga obras.
ful attempt at hollowing out the clientelist urban politics that dominated every
realm of urban institutional life. This transfer, organized by the national state,
took place in the context of a bitter and prolonged struggle between the pop-
ulist mayor (Elsa Bucaram) who saw a key instrument of her clientelist politics
being taken away by a left of centre national government. The conict, which
lasted for weeks and included the occupation of the water authority by muni-
cipal politicians, left the newly formed EPAP-G with a completely stripped-
down infrastructure and a disorganized administrative structure. A similar
reorganization of labour relations took place at the moment of the privatiza-
tion of the water services (see Chapter 6).
Indeed, partisan and clientelist arrangements are deeply embedded in the
choreography of political rituals in the invasion settlements. To a large extent,
the development of these was part and parcel of the expansion and consolida-
tion of clientelist political afliations (Moser 1987; Scheers 2002). Either inva-
sion organizers are politically afliated or barrios (neighbourhoods) become
co-opted through their local dirigentes (barrio leaders) into a particular party
allegiance. This allegiance is maintained and reinforced through the piecemeal
granting of infrastructural and other improvements. Through the control of
the local state, barrio groups that remain incorporated in the clientelist
network are rewarded while those that make more radical demands remain
unrecognized (Unda 1986). The dirigentes or local leaders play the role of
intermediaries in the power brokerage, relying heavily on their political con-
tacts as well as the informal networks they maintain in the settlements. They
often exercise full control over land invasions and service provisionalbeit
often informally organizedin the barrio in exchange for political support
and nancial rewards. Alternative community groups are quite often sup-
pressed or even violently silenced (Rogers 1992a). This clientelist patronage
structure leads to a very fragmented, divisive, and particularized system of
community action, and is an important stumbling block preventing the growth
of citywide coalitions that could confront the state much more directly.
8.2.2 Water politics and exclusion
In Chapter 6, we discussed the social implications of the productivist logic of
water utilities and the implicit class character of a systematic concentration of
production that excludes or marginalizes the crucial issue of distribution.
Indeed, the technocentric orientation of the public water authority whose
strategies and investment policies target water production in the rst instance,
followed by a gradual extension of the water distribution network, assures a
steady and more or less reliable ow of water to the urban elites. Maintenance
and, in particular, strategizing around a more just distribution system seems to
be one of the low priority areas. In this way, the urban water managers (Pahl
1966) safeguard their exclusive control and allow the upper classes and their
economic support structures (commerce and industry) to withdraw as much
Resistance and Water Activism 159
water as they desire at a highly subsidized price. The clientelist political
network, in turn, prevents these class issues from being turned into class poli-
tics by particularizing and individualizing solutions, granting piecemeal
improvements, displaying grand schemes and plans promising improvements,
and blaming the capitalist world order for failing to achieve the necessary
These water politics serve to keep the water problem high on the agenda and
help to channel potential discontent into a technocratic discourse that focuses
on engineering problems and solutions. In addition, portraying relative water
scarcity as the result of decient production capacity allows the transfer of
blame to the Other, in particular the unwillingness of international lending
bodies to provide the necessary nancial backing to implement the proposed
projects. Such strategies, although not entirely wrong-footed, help to alleviate
social pressure from the local state and the public water authority and allow the
existing water politics to continue without fundamental challenge. However,
through mobilizing particular discursive strategies, these forms of institution-
alized social exclusion are always mitigated by the threats of social revolts, civil
disobedience, and potential changes in the political landscape. This is readily
recognized by the elite Colegio de Ingenieros Civiles del Guayas:
The deterioration of the quality of life and of general well-being, to continue the cur-
rent tendencies, could, in not too distant a future, lead to explosive levels of social
resentment and to the despair of the affected masses and to unexpected social reactions
that, once unleashed, become uncontrollable because of the ensuing chaos and ardour
of the actions. (Castillo 1988: 4) (my translation)`
Clearly, such considerations, combined with the need to maintain clientelist
ties, led to a situation in which EPAP needed to tread a ne line between ensur-
ing the continued support of the political and economic elites by providing a
guaranteed service on the one hand, and extending water supply to the invasion
settlements to diffuse potential unrest and perpetuate the benets of the
patronage system on the other.
The productivist logic is further fed by the strategies and objectives of inter-
national lending agencies. Bilateral loans and World Bank assistance tend to
focus on increasing production capacity rather than improving managerial or
distribution practices. The conditions of international lending, such as requir-
ing technology and expertise to be sourced from the donor country, further
reinforce the technocratic productivist logic. In addition, the problematic for-
eign debt position of Ecuador and the related structural adjustment policies
pursued since the election of the conservative Sixto government render uncom-
160 Resistance and Water Activism
` El deterioro de la calidad de la vida y del bienestar general, de continuar las tendencias actuales,
puede llevar en un no lejano futuro a niveles explosivos de resentimiento social y de la desesperacin de
las masas efectadas y a imprevisibles reacciones sociales que una vez desencadena resulta incontrolable
por el caos y la dureza de los enfrentamientos que desata.
mitted global money much more difcult to come by (Suarez-Torres et al.
1997). These tensions, of course, contributed to facilitating the political project
of privatizing the citys water supply system.
8.3 Water terrorism: speculating with water
The tanqueros not only maintain a quasi-monopoly over water distribution in
the invasion settlements, but also control the most direct and oppressive forms
of socio-political action in the domain of water supplythe power of water
speculation. Water supply and rent extraction can be manipulated by speculat-
ing with water during periods of water supply problems; withholding large sec-
tions of the population from access to water in order to manufacture scarcity;
or expanding the coverage of the non-serviced areas by sabotaging part of the
existing water network.
8.3.1 Speculating on water shortages
As documented before, the water supply in the city as a whole, in parts of the
town, or at the lling station is limited. On top of the chronic supply problems,
moments of acute shortage or total absence of water supply can cause the
water supply in the city to be cut off. As suggested by the list provided in Table
8.1, which covers only a few randomly selected periods over a span of 10 years,
these shortages are not exceptional, but rather occur regularly, plunging the
city into a condition of acute water crisis. The ever-present potential for
moments of intense water shortage clearly ensures that the water issue remains
high on the agenda.
Such times of serious shortage, even for those who are connected to the of-
cial water supply system, create conditions of speculative water fever that are
invariably seized upon by the water vendors. It is quite common for water ven-
dors to arbitrarily increase the price whenever a water shortage erupts. For
example, when the water supply was halved on 28 April 1992 as a result of
clogged lters because of abundant growth of water lilies (partly as a result of
run-offs of nitrogen fertilizers into the River Daule), the tanqueros increased
the water price by 50 sucres. These outbursts of more acute scarcity produce an
environment that allows the tanqueros to appropriate an even greater mono-
poly rent from vending water. In 1998, during severe shortages, water vendors
also arbitrarily increased water prices (up to US$60 for a truck load of 8m).
Given this power of water, it should not be a surprise that the water vendors
actively use water scarcity as a strategic instrument to enhance their economic
power. The production of water scarcity is, therefore, a preferred strategy for
increasing the price of water (see Plates 8.2 and 8.3).
Resistance and Water Activism 161
162 Resistance and Water Activism
Table 8.1. Reported moments of acute water shortages in Guayaquil,
January 1988August 1993, MayAugust 1996, and January 1998July 1998
(randomly selected periods)
Date Place Problem Source Stated Reason
11/01/88 Guayaquil Low supply El Telegrafo Works at La Toma
03/07/88 Mapasingue No water Meridiano Damage to mains pipe
12/08/88 Duran No water Meridiano Part of mains pipe stolen
21/08/88 Guayaquil Rationing Meridiano Maintenance works at
electrical power station
12/09/88 Duran No water Meridiano Part of mains stolen
04/10/88 South City No water Telegrafo
15/01/89 Guayaquil No water El Universo Works
13/02/89 Guayaquil No water El Universo Water was diverted to the
Peninsula for the tourists
03/03/89 Duran No water
08/04/89 Guayaquil No water Expreso Lack of aluminosulphate
24/04/89 North City Water shortage El Universo
20/06/89 La Toma Low capacity El Telegrafo Pollution of river
21/07/89 Salinas Water shortage La Segunda
03/11/89 Salinas No water El Telegrafo Seven days of scarcity
15/11/89 Guayaquil No water El Universo Sabotage and lack of
chemicals to purify water
25/11/89 Guayaquil Water shortage La Segunda Third week of scarcity
03/12/89 Guayaquil Water problems El Universo La Toma did not have
28/12/89 Guayaquil Water scarcity El Universo
27/07/90 Guayaquil Low pressure La Razon Growth of algae
21/09/90 Guayaquil No water El Universo Electricity works in La
25/02/91 Peninsula No tanqueros El Universo Water delivery strike
27/05/91 Guayaquil No water El Universo Installation of new pumps
19/08/91 Guayaquil Water shortage El Universo Electricity problem
28/08/91 Guayaquil No tanqueros El Universo Strike of tanqueros
28/09/91 Guayaquil Low pressure El Universo
07/11/91 Guayaquil Shortage El Telegrafo Water works
14/11/91 Centenario No water El Universo
18/11/91 Guayaquil Shortage El Universo Works on mains
10/12/91 Guayaquil Low supply El Universo
31/01/92 Centro/Sur No water El universo Works
11/04/92 Guayaquil No water El Universo Work
27/04/92 Guayaquil Low capacity El Universo Problems with turbidity,
lack of lters/polimers
20/05/92 Los Ceibos No water El Universo Sabotage mains
20/05/92 South City No water El Universo Sabotage mains
27/08/92 Guayaquil No tanqueros Expreso Strike of tanqueros
14/09/92 Guayaquil No tanqueros El Universo Strike of tanqueros
14/10/92 Los Ceibos No water El Universo Works
Nov. 92 South City Water shortage El Universo Electricity problems
18/01/93 South City No water El Universo Electricity problems
13/03/93 Centro/Sur Water shortage El Universo Damaged mains
24/03/93 Guayaquil Water shortage El Telegrafo Increased turbidity
29/03/93 Guayaquil Water shortage El Universo
8.3.2 Water strikes: manufacturing water scarcity
Indeed, the monopoly control over water distribution held by water vendors
enables them to dry out large parts of the city and effectively dehydrate the cit-
izens. In Guayaquil, this is the preferred strategy used to force through a sig-
nicant price hike. Depriving the city of water for a few days allows the
tanqueros to increase the price arbitrarily. Water price increases of more than
100% are not unusual immediately after a strike by water speculators. Table
8.2 lists ve episodes of intense confrontation and water strikes organized by
the tanqueros in order to increase the water price over the period 1991 to 1993
(see also Plate 8.3). The ritual is invariably the same, with water vendors refus-
ing to distribute water in the water-deprived areas, starting on a Friday morn-
ing, resulting in the people being deprived of water for three full days. These
Resistance and Water Activism 163
Table 8.1. Continued
Date Place Problem Source Stated Reason
09/05/93 South City No water El Universo Strike of tanqueros
11/05/93 North City Shortage El Telegrafo Problems with electricity
13/05/93 Guayaquil No water El Telegrafo Damaged mains
31/05/93 Centro/Sur No water El Telegrafo Damaged mains
01/06/93 Centro/Sur Shortage El Telegrafo Electricity problems/
07/06/93 Guayaquil No water El Telegrafo Maintenance
11/07/93 South No water El Telegrafo Connecting new mains
09/08/93 Guayaquil Water shortage El Universo Damaged mains
16/05/96 Guayaquil Cut-offs El Universo Damaged pipes
18/06/96 Guayaquil No water El Universo
05/07/96 Guayaquil Shortage El Universo Insufcient pressure
05/08/96 Norte No water El Universo Repair works
02/10/96 Guayaquil No water El Universo Energy shortage
16/01/98 Guayaquil Shortage El Universo No chemicals
18/01/98 Guayaquil No water El Universo Turbidity/el Nino
29/01/98 Guayaquil No water El Universo Valves closed
01/02/98 Region Shortage El Universo Broken mains
12/02/98 Guayauil Shortage El Universo Broken pumps
06/03/98 Guayaquil Shortage El Universo Damage to reservoir
10/03/98 Guayaquil Shortage El Universo Combination of reasons
21/03/98 Duran No water El Universo Turbidity
23/04/98 Guayaquil Scarcity El Universo
07/05/98 Suburbio Scarcity El Universo Maintenance
08/06/98 Guayaquil Shortage El Universo Reduced production
Sources: Press reports from Meridiano, El Universo, El Telegrafo, Comercio, Expreso, La Segunda, La
164 Resistance and Water Activism
Plate 8.2. Guayaquils enduring water shortages and problems: media representations.
Resistance and Water Activism 165
Plate 8.3. Speculating with water.
actions also usually take place in the midst of the dry season in which no alter-
native (pluvial) water source is available. Water is literally wrung out from parts
of the city in an inevitably successful attempt to jack up the price and increase
the money rents that can be extracted.
Moreover, water strikes are also used as a means of defending the collective
interests of the water vendors and as an expression of solidarity. This is a par-
ticularly effective weapon against state attempts to regulate, intervene, or pun-
ish water vendors who charge too high a price or distribute water without the
necessary permits. Table 8.2 also lists a number of occasions when the weapon
of water strikes was used to counter actions undertaken by the police against
some of the water vendors. The danger of civil unrest resulting from halting
water distribution and the potential tensions arising from such situations
invariably leads to the state backing down on its demand (albeit sometimes tac-
itly), and accepting the new demands of the water distributors.
Changes in the location of the ofcial lling stations for the tanqueros is also
used as an excuse for increasing the price. Between 1990 and 1993, the lling
stations changed location three times. In April 1990, EPAP decided to concen-
trate the lling stations to a limited number of places. Before that time, there
were more than 20 lling points, mostly located along the Avenida 25 de Julio,
which runs from the city centre to the new port. This decentralized system pre-
vented the authorities from controlling and accounting for water sales to the
water distributors, and led to widespread theft. Two new lling stations were
constructed, one at Bellavista (to supply Guasmo and Suburbio) and one at Via
a Daule to supply the Northern settlements. While this concentration allowed
better control and supervision of the tanqueros, it also resulted in a price rise as
the water vendors claimed that the transportation distance had increased and,
consequently, delivery costs went up. At the time, the price rose from 150 sucres
to 200 sucres, a 33% increase. In late August 1991, EPAP-G refused to let the
166 Resistance and Water Activism
Table 8.2. Examples of reported water strikes by the tanqueros, 19911993
Date Source Reason
25/02/91 El Universo Strike of 137 tanqueros on the Peninsula after the
police arrested 17 tanqueros
28/08/91 El Universo Strike of tanqueros after the police had arrested two
who sold water without a permit
27/08/92 Expreso 48-hour strike of tanqueros because EPAP suspended
and ned fty of them
14/09/92 El Universo Tanqueros refuse to distribute water for three days after
government announced price increases for gasoline
May 1993 El Universo Tanqueros go on strike after the relocation of the lling
station from Bellavista to Via a la Costa 10km
Sources: Interviews, newspaper reports.
tanqueros use Puente 17 which allows the lorries to take the shorter road to
Guasmo, and seven tanqueros were penalized for failing to obey the regulation.
In response, the other tanqueros went on strike on a Thursday, drying out the
city, and the Frente de Usuarios organized a march to protest against the water
scarcity. EPAP-G allowed residents to ll up with water at the distribution sta-
tion without charge in order to appease the masses, whilst at the same time
changing the water tariffs charged to water vendors and increasing the price of
water for domestic use from 15 to 70 sucres for 1,000 litres, thereby ending the
price difference between domestic and industrial water usage. After the strike,
the real stakes became clear. Retail water prices increased from 300 sucres to an
average of 400450 sucres. This suggests that the measures taken by the urban
authorities immediately prompted a concerted response and action from the
tanqueros, who then used their socio-economic power to pass on the cost asso-
ciated with the changes to the nal customers. It is these consumers who nd
themselves in a very powerless situation, with no other options than accepting
the new conditions or dying of thirst.
September 1992 and May 1993 saw the tanqueros engaged in two dramatic
moments of intense action. These indicate the considerable social power
wielded by those who have a quasi-monopolistic control over the spatial distri-
bution of water in the city. The deterioration of water supply during the early
nineties, combined with the austerity and structural adjustment policies pur-
sued by the newly elected government headed by President Sixto, caused over-
all living conditions to deteriorate rapidly. In order to stem ination, suppress
domestic demand, and promote a reinvigorated export-led development, the
Sixto government announced and implemented a major economic restructur-
ing plan in August/September 1992. Wages were frozen, while prices for basic
food and other commodities and energy rose spectacularly (between 50% and
160% (for gasoline) ). The tanqueros went on strike on a Friday to protest
against the price increase of gasoline and spare parts, but this interruption of
water deliveries was also, as became clear a few days later, part of a strategy to
increase the price of water to the consumer. The ensuing popular unrest among
those who no longer had access to water took the form of rebellions, attacks,
and rioting. Tanqueros became subject to attacks and the army had to be called
in to restore order, with water distribution nally resuming on the following
Monday morning. This strike led to a price rise from 450 sucres to 700/800
sucres (see El Universo 1417 Sept. 1992).
Less than a year later, in May 1993, the tanqueros were once again at the fore-
front of an intense struggle. The local government had once again decided to
relocate the lling station of Bellavista from its central location to a site near
the beltway on Via a la Costa km 12.5. The ofcial reason given was to improve
the accessibility of the site for lorries supplying Guasmo and Suburbio. In real-
ity, however, the municipality was launching a major clean-up campaign in
anticipation of the upcoming Copa Americano (South American interna-
tional soccer tournament), a major international event which was to be
Resistance and Water Activism 167
co-hosted by Guayaquil. The lling station of Bellavista (which supplies
Guasmo and Suburbio) was located very near to the main soccer station where
some of the key games were to be played. The event was seen to have important
public relations implications, and cleaning-up the area was considered essen-
tial to boost the image of Guayaquil. In 1990, the Bellavista lling station cost
151 million sucres to build, but was closed after just three years of operation.
The new station opened on 4 May 1993, but, at that time, only 16 of the planned
26 supply lines were operational, resulting in long waiting times (of about 1
hours) and waiting tanker lorries queuing for several kilometres. On 5 May,
EPAP-G declared that the water price would not rise because the distance
between the lling station and the serviced areas is shorter than before, whilst
the tanqueros investigate the possibility of a price rise. On 7 May 1993, the
tanqueros went on strike to protest against the long waiting times, which
reduced the daily number of trips they were able to make from 7 or 8 to not
more than 3 or 4. They estimated that 2,000 trips were needed daily to supply
Guasmo and Suburbio, while the new lling station only allowed a daily maxi-
mum number of about 900 rounds, and announced a price increase for a 200-
litre barrel of water from 800 to 1,200 sucres. This strike continued until at least
11 May, resulting in water delivery to Guasmo and Suburbio being reduced to
a trickle or completely stopped for almost an entire week. The few tanqueros
that did make water-vending trips demanded prices of up to 1,500 and 1,800
sucres (almost US$1) for 200 litres. Most of them drove in from the lling sta-
tion at the Via a Daule where business was going on as usual. People who were
becoming increasingly desperate to get water convened at the lling station to
demand it, hired private trucks, and formed informally organized neighbour-
hood hauling parties to get at least some water.
The conict continued throughout the entire month of May. On 11 May, in
a desperate attempt to defuse tension, EPAP announced that it would close
down industrial water supply lines in the southern part of the city to defuse the
rapidly intensifying social tension. By early June, the situation had still not
returned to normal as water remained extremely scarce in the central and
southern part of the city. On 31 May, a march was organized to protest against
the situation, and tanqueros had to be brought in under police supervision and
directed to areas with extreme shortages. Extraordinary high water prices were
charged, with 200 litres now costing up to 2,000 sucres (1US$). The social
struggle intensied, with groups of people taking to the streets, incinerating
tyres, blocking roads, and occupying the main road connecting the central part
of the city with the port. The Director-General of EPAP-G, Mario Chavez-
Baird, personally supervised the closing down of illegal connections to show
that ofcial action was indeed being taken to redress the situation. On 7 June,
the water shortage was still acute, with marches and actions continuing (see El
Universo, El Comercio, and El Telegrafo 411 May/24 June). By mid-July,
FEDEBAS demanded the establishment of a local management committee
that would involve all the key actors in an attempt to negotiate a more regulated
supply of water. By now, the strike had ended but water supply remained lim-
168 Resistance and Water Activism
ited and problematic. The new water price settled at around 1,200 sucres for
200 litres (a 50% increase), with a higher rate of 1,500 sucres charged in the
most distant areas (such as Isla Trinitaria).
8.3.3 Striking the water system: Una Guerra por el Control
de los Recursus Hidricos
In their ongoing rivalry with the water utilities, the water speculators do not shy
away from terrorist attacks on the ofcial network to prevent the erosion of
their monopoly position or to expand the geographic area over which they hold
the key to life and death. When the distribution network in Guayacanes, Los
Ceibos, and Sauces was sabotaged in May 1992, El Universo reported the event
under the heading of Una Guerra por el Control de los Recursus Hidricos (a
war for the control of water resources). The enormous money power associated
with the control over nature can therefore turn into an outright war over water.
A traditional point of attack is the mains pipe connecting the city of Guayaquil
with the coastal resort towns of the Peninsula, in particular Salinas. These acts
of sabotage invariably take place during the winter months (the rainy season),
during which the environmental and climatological conditions in the city are
such that thousands of the better-off residents escape from the hot and humid
conditions in the city and retreat to their coastal residences. Salinas is never-
theless dependent on the same water supply system as Guayaquil and is con-
nected with the main reservoir by means of just one aqueduct. Sabotaging the
aqueduct ensures an instantaneous expansion of the market for the private
water vendors and guarantees a spatial monopoly over water distribution on
the Peninsula. When the aqueduct was sabotaged in November 1989, the price
for a truckload of water rose from 10,000 to 14,000 sucres. Table 8.3 lists a
number of reported sabotaging events on the water system (see also Plate 8.4).
Resistance and Water Activism 169
Table 8.3. Examples of reported attacks and sabotages of the water system,
19881992, FebruaryJune 1998
Date Source Nature of attack Place
12/02/88 Meridiano Breaking and stealing pipe Duran
03/11/89 Telegrafo Attack on mains pipe Salinas
Feb. 91 EPAP-G Sabotage aqueduct Guayaquil/Salinas
13/03/91 Telegrafo Attack on mains pipe Between Duran and
La Puntilla
20/05/92 El Universo Sabotage distribution pipes Guayacanes, Los Ceibos,
and Sauces
08/02/98 El Universo Broken mains (reason unknown) Peninsula
08/06/98 El Universo Accusations of sabotage made
by community organizations
Sources: Newspaper reports, EPAP-G documentation.
170 Resistance and Water Activism
Plate 8.4. Going on water strike/sabotaging the water system.
8.4 Conclusions
In short, those in control of water must be perpetually involved in a generalized
and overt water class struggle in order to maintain the basis of their power. The
tactics, strategies and struggles waged by those that hold effective political
and/or economic control over water production and distribution point towards
an outright social conict over the urbanization of nature. We have shown how
the productionist logic of the water authorities provided the elites with exclu-
sive access to unlimited amounts of water while ignoring the key issue of dis-
tribution. The strategies and policies of international lending agencies also
permit the urban water managers to safeguard their exclusive control, to sus-
tain a productionist logic, and to allow the urban elites to withdraw as much
water as they desire at low prices. The clientelist political system and paternal-
istic political relations, in turn, prevent those deprived of water from turning
these issues into coherent class politics by providing individualized and partic-
ularized solutions, which are granted in a piecemeal and highly politicized
fashion. This system is self-perpetuating, reinforcing the dependence of the
water-deprived citizens on clientelist ties and patronage.
Although the states actions are inuenced by threats of urban revolt and
discontent, which threaten the political economic cohesion of the urban fabric,
it continues to allow the perpetuation and consolidation of the private truck-
based distribution system. These strategies become more and more direct and
oppressive, turning the water sellers into central power brokers in the city. In
turn, this allows them to monopolize water distribution and to cash in on their
power position by means of appropriating extraordinarily high water rents.
This water war meets generally with a fragmented, rather weak, and often indi-
vidualized popular resistance.
All of this conrms that water and water issues are central to understanding
the political ecology of the city. It also shows how the contestation of natures
water is directly related to the sustainability of urban life. In the end, it begs the
question as to how an emancipatory and empowering water politics can be
Resistance and Water Activism 171
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Whose Water and Whose City?
Towards an Emancipatory
Water Politics
9.1 Setting the agenda: nature, justice, and the city
Urban water is part and parcel of the political ecology of power that structures
the functioning of the city. The preceding chapters showed how the circulation
of water, the most natural of goods, is inserted into the maelstrom of social
power relations through which the urbanization process unfolds. The urban-
ization of water and the urban hydrosocial cycle on which the sustainability of
the city depends is impregnated by myriad social, cultural, political, and eco-
nomic meanings and powers that place control over and access to nature
squarely within the realm of key moral and ethical questions. In particular, it
raises the issue of the relationship between nature, social justice, and the city.
While the city cannot exist without the perpetual metabolic transformation of
nature, this very transformation turns nature into a deeply social process in
which nature, society, and the city can no longer be separated. It also suggests,
of course, that some key questions need to be asked with respect to the social
and material construction of the citys nature and the power relationships
through which this transformation and urban metabolism is organized and
maintained. In this vein, we have attempted to explain how a political ecologi-
cal analysis permits casting a new and different light onto the socio-ecological
metabolic dynamics of the urbanization process itself.
The previous chapters indicated that this urban transformation of water is
a manifestation and expression of wider relations that clearly transcend the
simple question as to who does and who does not have access to water. It also
suggested that the water problem is not merely a question of management and
technology, but rather, and perhaps in the rst instance, a question of social
power. The many manifestations of this power discussed in this book suggest
how an enabling and empowering water politics need to address this question
of power head on. In particular, those that defend the rights of the disempow-
ered to the citys nature have to understand the central political power relation-
ships that structure the existing pattern. It is exactly this exclusion that needs to
be contested if a genuinely emancipatory and fully humane urban develop-
ment is to be constructed.
Clearly, the analysis presented in this book aims to reposition the issue of
water availability into the broader framework of urban politics. Every feasible
or even mildly effective solution to the thorny problem of water control and
access is doomed to fail unless it recognizes what it is up against and what is at
stake in this struggle. In the end, this whole problematic raises the issue as to
who has the right to the city and whose nature is, in the name of progress and
modernization, so violently and oppressively appropriated by some at the
exclusionary expense of others.
9.2 Towards an emancipatory urban water politics: principles
Although the urbanization of water is systematically couched in the rhetoric of
engineers and technicians, it should be clear by now that it is difcult to sustain
the argument that this is a predominantly technical matter. Technology clearly
matters, but the technology itself is embedded in and is an expression of a
wider political discourse and practice, which then becomes de facto built into
the steel and concrete of the technological engineering structure (Kaka and
Swyngedouw 2000). However, the technocratic discourse and argumentation
help to obfuscate the issues of power and control and to formulate the water
problem as one that is determined by the power over nature rather than by the
power of one social group over another. We have shown how the power of one
social group over another is mediated by and organized through the ways in
which nature is transformed and socialized.
It is quite clear that the technological argument belongs to the arsenal of dis-
courses, if not ideologies, developed and advocated by those who hold power.
Not surprisingly, the technological system itself helps both to maintain the
mechanisms of control and exclusion while simultaneously contributing to the
construction of an argument that ignores or, at best, minimizes the role of
socio-political power. It is therefore scarcely surprising to discover that those
who control the transformation of water, whether they be the state and its rep-
resentative organizations or private water supply companies, view this as an
exclusively technological exercise.
Elements for an emancipatory and empowering water circulation system
include managerial, production, distribution, and supply considerations. In
the rst instance, it is imperative that the notion of unlimited supply of water
be replaced by a view of water management as the just distribution of an
inevitably limited, but vital, resource. However, the urban scarcity of water is
not a function of its limited availability in nature, but rather, as has been shown,
is socio-economically and politically constructed. And it is, of course, exactly
this manufactured scarcity that permits water to enter easily into the unequal
power relations associated with market relations, and to turn the control over
O into a means to exercise bio-political power and control (Hardt and Negri
176 Whose Water? Whose City?
2000; Crespo 2002a). A managerial structure concerned with distributional,
rather than predominantly production related, issues is, therefore, of vital
importance. This would question the existing power relationships in the city, as
well as raising the critical issues of Whose water and Whose city we are talk-
ing about. Challenging the systematically uneven water power that character-
izes the city of Guayaquil, or any other city for that matter, requires closer
involvement of the local people in the management of and control over the
public water utility. This improved participation of the citizen and the reversal
of the productivist logic could lead to a reorientation of water politics based on
considerations of equal distribution and just accessibility. The pricing system
ought to be adjusted to more accurately reect the purchasing power of the
water consumer. This would necessitate bringing water distribution in the mar-
ginal settlements under direct control of public authorities or of collective
grass-roots organizations. In fact, the appropriation of water rents, currently
held and monopolized by the private water vendors, would easily allow for an
effective and future oriented urban water politics and economics.
Clearly, the transformation to an emancipatory urban water politics is not
only a local or urban issue, but is also inserted into the higher political scale of
the state and the international political economy. All of this has profound
implications for international and national nancing schemes, the managerial
structure of the water utility, the nancing of water schemes, and the politics of
privatization. Moreover, fundamental changes would be required in the tech-
nological organization of the water production, conduction, and distribution
system itself.
Those that are disempowered and excluded, however, have long understood
the political nature of the water problem. Women, indigenous populations,
and the poor experience the deeply exclusionary practices of unequal water
accessibility in their daily quest for water, and realize that this is structured
through social power and not through the technologies of water mastering. It
is in this sense as well that we wish to develop a series of suggestions. We do not
intend to propose an alternative Master Plan for urban water supply. Rather,
we wish to emphasize how the water issue needs to be dealt with as a political
problem in the rst instance. The technological discourse and practice, and the
socio-physical metabolism of the city, need to be grafted onto an emancipatory
urban water politics.
9.3 Towards a new water politics: from the local
to the global and back again
9.3.1 A voice for the grass roots
Among the poor and excluded, the water issue is a top priority and clearly one
that is formulated in outright political terms. Although apparently the least
powerful, on occasion they can muster sufcient force to resist further attacks
Whose Water? Whose City? 177
on the supply system or to demand institutional, organizational, or infrastruc-
tural changes. Grass-roots organization is a cornerstone for an emancipatory
urban living and needs to be structured around some key premises.
Sustained grass-roots activism
As many neighbourhood organizations have demonstrated in Guayaquil and
elsewhere, sustained and organized popular action has helped to keep the water
issue high on the political agenda and forced the ofcial system to remain on
guard. A variety of strategies have been employed, ranging from marches and
rebellions to the formulation of alternative water distribution and production
strategies (Crespo 2002a, b). When combined with a sustained criticism of the
ofcial attitude towards the water speculators, these strategies have con-
tributed to turning the water issue into a clear and key political theme that can
no longer be addressed primarily in terms of engineering principles, investment
schemes, and technocratic solutions. FEDEBAS, together with a host of other
organizations, have managed to keep the attentions of local, provincial, and
national government on the water issue, with a uctuating level of success.
Although direct tangible results are difcult to measure, their relentless defence
of the excluded and urban underclass has been pivotal in the citys political
In addition, womens organizations have long recognized the power rela-
tionships associated with and embedded in the metabolism of urban water.
Their strategies, preferably in close association with other grass-roots move-
ments, are of prime importance in keeping the issue in the spotlight. Such sus-
tained grass-roots action which gives a voice and a face to the underprivileged,
is a necessary condition for moving in the direction of a more sustainable
urban political ecology.
Negotiating power
In addition to raising their concerns and demonstrating their potential for
action, it is imperative for peoples organizations to become directly involved in
the planning, implementation, and management of the water production and
distribution system itself. This means pressing the water authority to place the
issue of water distribution (rather than production) at the top of the agenda.
This would necessitate the integration of the truck-based distribution system
into the policy framework. While the current policy system still ofcially holds
to the view that truck-based distribution is a temporary anomaly that will dis-
appear as the ofcial piped network expands (an idle promise recently reinvig-
orated by the privatization debate), the neighbourhood organizations have to
press the water authority to accept the inevitability of a truck-based delivery
system for a long time to come. Recognizing alternative distribution systems as
inevitable would bring the regulation and organization of the private vending
system under the remit of the state and/or the water-regulators, who would
178 Whose Water? Whose City?
then have to either plan and implement alternative distribution channels them-
selves or insist on a more strict regulation of the existing private water distri-
bution system. This system would include the establishment of democratic and
participatory bargaining institutions or frameworks in which all those con-
cerned could negotiate key water-related issues (price, quality, distribution
planning, etc.) which would, in turn, be appropriately enforced.
Implementing grass-roots projects
In addition, such a system of bargaining power needs to be extended to incor-
porate planning and implementation issues such as the nancing and con-
struction of community taps and cisternas comunitarias, the planning of new
caption sites and alternative supply systems, or the planning and implementa-
tion of alternative smaller-scale production systems (using, for example,
subterranean water as some of the hotels and local industries do). Finally,
neighbourhood organizations can and should take the lead in organizing alter-
native distribution systems. By reinvesting the prots obtainable from these in
community development projects, the nancial benets could be retained
locally rather than siphoned off to Miami bank accounts, the vaults of the
global water industry, or the share-holders of water companies.
For example, a feasibility-study undertaken in September 1993 by
FEDEBAS and myself suggested that an initial investment of 700 million
sucres to buy ve tank lorries for the distribution of water by the community in
some settlements of Suburbio would generate a net annual prot of 34.7 mil-
lion sucres, while the price of water could be kept down to 700 sucres for a tank
of 200 litres. This would mean a 40% price reduction to the consumer, allow a
massive annual reinvestment into the community, and facilitate the full-time
employment of 13 community-based people (Swyngedouw 1994; Vlaams
Internationaal Centrum 1994). This suggests that a minimum investment can
yield high returns while addressing the thorny issue of water scarcity and trans-
fer of nancial resources as a result of the speculative strategies of the private
water vendors. This project is currently funded by an international NGO in
cooperation with FEDEBAS. It was launched in 1995 and the rst two water
trucks, nanced by the Belgian state, arrived in Guayaquil in March 1996.
Another three trucks arrived a few months later. The implementation phase of
the water distribution scheme was put in place and the full project was opera-
tional by the end of 1996.
9.3.2 The local state
The role of the local state (urban and provincial) is central to the success of
such a transformation. As privileged interlocutors between communities and
water company, the local state has the power to place pressure on the water
authorities and company, to negotiate power with citizens and water owners,
and to project, promote, implement, and police a vision of urban development
Whose Water? Whose City? 179
and management in which emancipation and empowerment are central
In addition, the inequalities of the current and highly skewed distribution
system need to be tackled. This will require addressing technical design issues
(such as bypass systems enabling a more spatially just rationing of the available
water), as well as implementing a pricing system that seriously sanctions
spillage and massive overconsumption of water for conspicuous consumption
purposes (fountains in gated communities, swimming pools, irrigation of
gardens, etc.). Perhaps the most important issue, however, is the recapture
of the enormous economic water power currently held by the tanqueros. The
willingness-to-pay for water in the suburban areas is understandably very high,
and (as shown in Chapter 7) the total revenue of the private water vending
industry is higher than that of the water utility. Taking control of distribution
in these settlements would cause an immense improvement in the economic and
nancial position of the water company, creating a surplus that could then be
ploughed back into a further improvement of the distribution system. In addi-
tion, the highly subsidized pricing of water for the well-to-do parts of the city
reinforces the injustices, creating a system of cross-subsidization that favours
the rich and has clear socially perverse effects. Redesigning the pricing system
in a way that would place the ability-to-pay in the foreground would equally be
a key element in altering the socio-spatial pattern of water distribution.
Finally, the productivist logic combined with the ideology of underdevelop-
ment that so successfully contains the local tensions and contradictions by
exporting them needs to be replaced by a determined sensitivity to local power
relationships and how these dene water accessibility and exclusion. This all
hinges on the capacity to regulate and police access to nature, although in the
current power situation control is virtually absent or plainly impossible. The
current intricate power rituals around water control and accessibility, com-
bined with the exclusion of many segments of the population in the decision-
making process, preclude the successful policing of and control over water
accessibility. Populist political strategies are always present, and prevent the
adoption of measures that empower large segments of the population and aim
at a more fundamental reorientation of public service provision.
9.3.3 The national state
Nature and the environment are not external conditions, independent of the
urban process, but are part and parcel of the political basis of social change.
The economic, social, ecological, and infrastructural processes inherent in
urbanization require the simultaneous transformation of nature and the con-
struction of a new socio-natural environment. The states technocratic and
economistic perspectives ignore these crucial connections, thereby perpetuat-
ing profound injustices and undermining the sustainability of the social and
urban system. This is reinforced still further by the demands of the interna-
180 Whose Water? Whose City?
tional funding and lending agencies. Environmental justice, as explored
through the urbanization of natures water, is essential to the long-term sur-
vival of the national economy and the sustainability of its social and environ-
mental fabric. The killing of thousands of citizens as a result of problematic
water access loots the country of some of its most vitally needed resources. It
has to be recognized that this loss of life and the disempowerment of those
living on the urban ecological and social margins is not a poisonous gift of
nature but the result of concrete political ecological transformations struc-
tured through the political, cultural, and economic power positions of the
elites. Turning political economy into political ecology with a strategy inspired
by considerations of socio-environmental justice is essential if a positive and
enabling interweaving of society, nature, and the city is to be regained. This in
turn requires a systematic resistance to the dominant forces that celebrate a
continuing ecological colonization, international control over and private
appropriation of natures resources, and the perpetuation of bio-political com-
mand structures.
Little is to be expected from the current neo-liberal export-based, and struc-
tural adjustment policies pursued by the national government. If anything, the
shift in expenditure patterns and policy initiatives over the past few years have
signalled a systematic shift away from a commitment to the poor and power-
less, and towards supporting a reinvigorated internationalized local and global
elite. Much of this struggle unfolds over resources (such as oil, water, and land)
and their use. This is apparent in the many highly contested cases of water pri-
vatization around the world, including that of Guayaquils urban water supply
and sewerage company. The case of Cochabamba, Bolivia, indicates that the
contestation of the regulation of nature can be successful if mass mobilization
threatens the cohesion of civil society.
In short, national policy has thus far focused almost exclusively on mech-
anisms to intensify the transformation of nature (and, consequently, the
production of a new nature) without much consideration of the issue of distri-
bution. The further mastering and control of nature, however desirable it may
seem from a technocratic engineering perspective, does not necessarily con-
tribute to a more sustainable and socially just form of urbanization and urban
development. Clearly, taking the distributional issue into account (that is, who
has the right of access to transformed nature) is not independent of a consid-
eration of the ways in which nature will be transformed and socialized. Such a
reorientation will, in turn, affect the position of Ecuador in the international
division of labour and the relations between the state and international nan-
cial and other organizations.
9.3.4 Mobilizing water and the politics of scale
The urbanization of water is, of course, caught into the wider political econ-
omy of the state and the international position of Ecuador. The recent shift
Whose Water? Whose City? 181
towards a more liberal monetarist policy, which has resulted in a signicant
reduction of expenditures in social domains (see Acosta and Maldonada 1992;
Suarez-Torres et al. 1997), has had negative effects on urban water availability
and sanitation. In addition, the structural adjustment policies advocated and
often imposed by the World Bank and the IMF have not only reduced the
nancial ows from the capitalist core, but also has made them subject to strin-
gent conditions which slow down the expansion of infrastructure and put a
premium on privatization, efciency, productivity, export-led growth and,
above all, protability. This, in turn, further erodes the possibility of supplying
the poor. In addition, the reinvigorated export dependency pursued to redress
the balance of payment problem also affects social and physical infrastructure
investments for the poor by emphasizing investments in and promoting ven-
tures aimed at increasing foreign revenue earnings. The ecological transforma-
tions associated with these internationally policed bio-political restructuring
policies insert the political ecology of Ecuador even more squarely into the
international socio-ecological division of labour at the expense of the trans-
formation of nature for local needs. This is not a new phenomenon. Chapters 4
and 5 showed how this has been the fate of Ecuador since the nineteenth cen-
tury and is integral to the way in which Ecuador became inserted into the inter-
national division of labour during the twentieth century. In other words, water
and other parts of nature are turned into monetized and globalized nature
rather than into a milieu in which a productive and mutually supportive rela-
tionship develops between a just urban sustainability and a responsible man-
agement of natures resources.
Grass-roots movements should recognize these linkages and scale issues by
putting them onto their own agenda. Without a systematic debate over the
wider political ecology of the urbanization process, the peoples projects will
remain at the margins of a transformation process whose contours are drawn
by national and supranational institutions and power brokers. In the interna-
tional domain, water is indeed increasingly becoming a problematic resource
(see Postel 1992) that is fought over in innumerable ways by communities,
states, and international water companies alike. Clean and potable water (as
well as irrigation water) is rapidly becoming the new Blue Gold over which an
intense geopolitical struggle unfolds. This of course raises the issue as to who
has the right of how much water of what quality and where. For international
organizations and nancial institutions, the transformation of nature is still
largely considered in terms of the balance sheet of costbenet analysis in
which the short-term monetization of nature and the discounting of future
costs are the guiding principles. Such assessment mechanisms further reinforce
the exclusion of the poor. In particular, the deafening calls for privatization of
urban and public services sounds rather hypocritical in an environment like
Guayaquil in which 40% of the population is actually serviced by private ser-
vice providers who earn more than half the total water revenue. The structure
of private water provision in Guayaquil demonstrates the potentially lethal
182 Whose Water? Whose City?
effects of the privatization of nature. It also suggests that private organization
is not necessarily a panacea for remedying unsatisfactory service provision.
In addition, international nancial ows have been jeopardized by
Ecuadors problematic history of debt repayments, and have turned from an
abundant ow during the oil-rich years of the 1970s to a mere trickle in the late
eighties and early nineties. Moreover, those thin ows that do remain have
become increasingly subject to stringent conditions, which usually come down
at the expense of the poorest segments of society. These conditional loans also
change the society/environment interaction, both in terms of the type of envi-
ronmental transformation that is pursued and the means used to facilitate this.
These policies are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future unless the inter-
national community increases pressure on bilateral and multilateral nancial
assistance to incorporate considerations of socio-environmental sustainability
and justice.
9.4 Technology, infrastructure, and the appetite for water
In the end, it is the technological and engineering practice and systems that
legitimize a continuation of the current dominant vision and strategy. Of
course, this strategy then becomes further cemented into a technological or-
ganization of the process of transforming nature. For example, tackling the
distributional issue would also necessitate a reversal of the technological/
engineering structure that characterizes the current system, which is aimed at
maximizing water production. The enormous spillage, skewed pricing struc-
ture, and highly exclusive distribution system suggest that the other side of the
circulation of water is under-studied, undervalued, and under-resourced.
It is fairly simple to devise alternative technological systems that would
embody a different set of social relations and have positive social implications.
The southern suburbs of the city, for example, could easily be given a better
supply of water by constructing a mains pipe directly from the reservoir at Tres
Cerritos to the poor suburban settlement of Guasmo. This would improve
water pressure and supply in this area (but of course at the expense of the
upper-income areas of Urdesa and Los Ceibos). In addition, tapping into
alternative water reserves by means of small-scale technology (for example,
small pumps using aquifer water) would increase the power of local communi-
ties over their own water supply. In particular, this would diffuse the power of
the ideology of underdevelopment argument. Although partially correct, the
ideology of underdevelopment is used as a powerful tool to legitimate and
explain away persistent water exclusion while maintaining exclusive control
over water by the middle and upper classes. In addition, reversing the techno-
cratic argument would weaken the role of international nance in the race to
commodify and urbanize natures water.
Whose Water? Whose City? 183
Addressing these key issues is essential in order to gain control over the wider
and longer-term objective of reducing water losses and expanding water pro-
duction capacity.
9.5. Whose nature? whose city?
In the end, the urban water issue is part and parcel of a much wider considera-
tion of the environmental basis of the citys existence and change over time.
The city is a giant social process, perpetually transforming the socio-physical
metabolism of nature. Nature and society are in this way combined to form an
urban political ecology, a hybrid, an urban cyborg that combines the power of
nature with the power of class, gender, and ethnicity. The water issue illustrates
how nature and society combine in the production of socio-spatial fabric that
privileges some and excludes many.
Water, therefore, is an integral element of the political ecology of the city and
needs to be addressed in these terms. Urbanizing water, although generally
portrayed as a technological engineering problem is, in fact, as much part of
the politics of life as any other social process. The recognition of this political
meaning of nature is essential if sustainability is to be combined with a just and
empowering urban development; an urban development that returns the city
and the citys environment to the citizens.
184 Whose Water? Whose City?
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access to water 1, 2, 3, 4, 78, 18, 23, 25, 28,
29, 30, 35, 378, 41, 44, 46, 4950, 57,
67, 72, 73, 75, 81, 91, 100, 107, 112,
1502, 156, 176, 177, 181
in Latin America 537, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64,
69, 70, 72, 116, 118, 119, 121, 123,
1257, 1334, 135, 138, 143, 146, 148,
149, 161, 167, 1701
activism 150
grass roots mobilization 153, 1557, 177,
1789, 182
grass roots movements see social
individual resistance 151
mobilization 4, 69, 107, 150, 153, 1557,
passive acceptance 1501
self-help 150, 152, 155
social protest 150
urban grass roots mobilization 178
Agua Clara, river 82, 91, 92, 100
aguadores see aguateros
aguateros (water vendors) 80, 81
aid 148
see also loans
Alfaro, Eloy (president) 82, 87, 90, 100, 117
Althusser, Louis 22
Amazonia 56, 109, 110
see also Latin America
Anatolia Water Project 46
ancient Rome 30
aqueducts 30, 58, 111, 113, 169
aquifers 12, 35, 36, 37, 46, 73, 1512, 183
Argentina 54, 56, 60
Ariadnes thread 21, 28
Atacama Desert 51
Babahoyo, river 2, 62, 116
banana exports 7980, 98, 1029
Barranquilla 52, 54, 55, 56, 139
barrios 152, 159
see also signied 14, 21
Bellavista 137, 154, 166, 167, 168
practice 18, 22, 28
processes 12, 29, 35
body, the 15, 18, 26, 30, 31, 32, 334, 35, 83
Bogot 51, 52, 120
Bolivia 54, 60, 73, 132, 139
bottled water companies 37
bourgeoisie 16, 17, 801, 84, 857, 889, 93,
945, 967, 117, 118
Brasilia 51
Brazil 54, 59, 60, 153
BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)
BSJEC (Buck, Seifert, and Just, Consulting
Engineers) 104
Buenos Aires 41, 51, 52, 53, 60, 61, 79, 88,
Cacaoteros 93, 94
canalization 28, 39, 82, 89, 92
capital 10, 12, 16, 18, 36, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42,
46, 48, 49, 58, 5960, 61, 79, 84, 87, 88,
90, 93, 94, 97, 104, 106, 109, 110,
11415, 117, 122, 129, 130, 145
accumulation 12, 32, 41
capitallabour relations 84, 88
circulation of 1, 16, 18, 29, 312, 35, 36,
37, 50, 85, 88, 92, 95, 99, 105, 145; see
also ows of capital/investment
foreign 79, 80, 103, 110, 113, 124, 148
capitalism 1, 2, 10, 13, 17, 24, 25, 28, 31, 32,
87, 110, 160
and political ecology 21
Castree, Noel 19
Chadwick, Edwin 32
Chile 60
circulation 16, 19, 305, 34, 36, 50
see also Marx; Rousseau
circulation of water 1, 256, 27, 289, 305,
36, 37, 50, 545, 72, 75, 81, 912, 104,
114, 115, 117, 133, 145, 175, 176, 183
cisternas comunitarias 152, 155
citizen participation 45, 134, 177
see also participation; stakeholder
city, the 1, 2, 3, 4, 912, 13, 14, 21, 246, 27,
308, 39, 1756, 177, 178, 181, 184
Coca-Cola 75
Cochabamba 8, 52, 54, 55, 60, 1312, 139
cocoa exports 7980, 82, 83, 847, 88, 90,
91, 938, 99, 102, 103, 106, 109, 114
Colegio de Ingenieros Civiles de Guayas 160
204 Index
Comit Pro-Agua Potable y Progroso
Comitario 155
commodication 10, 35, 42, 43, 47, 101, 115,
of nature 183
of water 7, 29, 34, 35, 36, 37, 41, 42, 43,
48, 50, 75, 80, 81, 83, 91, 104, 115
Commonwealth Development Corporation
comprador 85, 867, 94, 103
see also bourgeoisie
Confedarcin Obrera Provincial de Guayas
conict 2, 4, 26, 50, 88, 118, 152
political 8, 40, 41, 45, 46, 90, 110, 127
social 8, 10, 378, 45, 46, 49, 150, 158, 170
territorial 2, 46
contaminated water 51, 56, 57, 72, 151
bacterial 55, 74
pollution 152
Costa 96, 99, 102, 154
Costa Rica 60
Cronon, William 24
cultural capital 33, 35, 812
cultural metabolism 17, 20, 25, 28
see also hybridity; quasi-object
and nature 1213, 1718, 1820, 22, 25,
and public health 2735
and water 2, 18, 23, 289, 35, 37, 41, 50, 75
cyborgs 7, 13, 14, 18, 22, 25, 26, 29, 184
dams 3, 16, 18, 28, 39, 46
see also megadams
Daule, river 2, 62, 65, 73, 80, 81, 99, 1045,
111, 116, 132, 161, 166
Davis, Mike 2, 24
decision making 41, 44, 45, 57, 59, 89, 186
Defensa Civil 137, 144, 155
Departamento de Agua Potable 101, 107
de-regulation 40, 43, 44, 114, 122, 127
see also regulation
deserts 25, 51
deterritorialization of nancial markets 40
dialectics 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21,
24, 101, 115, 117
dirigentes 159
see also barrios
discourse 7, 18, 19, 20, 37, 114, 148, 160,
176, 177
disease 27, 56, 57, 73, 74, 94, 102, 106
amoebiasis 56
cholera 56, 73
diarrhoea 56, 73, 74
hepatitis 56
infectious 56, 74
inuenza 56, 73
malaria 12
typhus 56
water-borne 28, 56, 73
disempowerment 3, 24, 25, 116
see also empowerment
division of labour 3, 15, 36, 37, 80, 81, 132,
156, 181, 182
Dolly the Sheep 13
domination 4, 10, 11, 32, 70, 74, 107
see also subordination
drought 14, 25, 47
Yorkshire 8
Duran 62, 65, 67, 79, 100, 137, 143, 155, 162,
Eastern Europe 8, 128
ECAPAG (Empresa Cantonal de Agua
Potable y Alcantarillo de Guayaquil)
129, 130, 132
ecological footprints 10
urban water 45
El Nio 12, 14, 112, 163
emancipation 11, 13, 14, 20, 24, 29, 74
EMAP-G (Empresa Provincial de Agua
Potable de Guayas) 108, 11112, 113,
118, 128
empowerment 24, 25, 69, 133, 171, 180
Empresa Cantonal de Agua Potable y
Alcantarillo de Guayaquil see ECAPAG
Empresa Provincial de Agua Potable del
Guayas see EPAP-G
end of nature 17
Enlightenment 13, 33
post-Enlightenment 20
Enron 41
of the city 1011
justice 11, 181, 183
production of 11, 23, 24, 161
transformation of nature 10, 15, 16, 17,
18, 24, 25, 29, 30, 35, 37, 63, 79, 85, 86,
88, 99, 103, 104, 114, 115, 126, 145, 150,
environment summit, Johannesburg (2002)
environmental change 7, 9, 10, 23, 24, 129
environmental problems 8, 9, 10, 11, 38, 39,
environmental social movements 9, 11, 40,
see also social movements
environmentalism 12, 13, 25
Index 205
EPAP-G (Empresa Provincial de Agua
Potable del Guayas) 113, 118, 119, 123,
124, 126, 128, 136, 138, 139, 140, 141,
143, 146, 147, 148, 149, 152, 155, 159,
160, 166, 167, 168
Europe 8, 34, 38, 81, 83, 85, 889, 90, 93,
103, 104, 117, 127, 128
European Commission 44
European Union 40, 44, 124
European water framework directive 44
political 11, 25, 28, 29, 30, 32, 34, 35
water exclusion 3, 4, 29, 30, 34, 35, 49, 51,
534, 56, 60, 62, 67, 69, 72, 735, 83,
928, 101, 108, 115, 116, 117, 118, 123,
1256, 133, 147, 1489, 15960, 1756,
177, 183; see also access to water
FEDEBAS (Federacin de Barrios
Suburbanos) 144, 154
federalism 96
feminism 12
exible accumulation 39
ooding 14, 51
ows 910, 16, 18, 20, 21, 28, 31, 35, 104,
capital/investment 4, 37, 39, 41, 48, 86,
103, 104, 109, 110, 112, 114, 182, 183
FODUR (Fondacin de Desarollo Urbano)
152, 153
Fordism 40, 104
garden 35, 62
see also landscaped gardens
gender 34, 745, 83, 184
conict 10, 24
see also water and gender
global debt crisis 39, 5960, 86, 98, 106, 108,
110, 112, 122, 1234, 147, 160, 183
global investment 39, 109
see also capital; international nance
Golan Heights 46
Gordian knot 13, 14, 21
governance 40, 445, 114
gestalt of 45
Guatemala 51, 60
Guatemala city 51, 54
Guayas 73, 108, 111
Guayas, river 2, 62, 67, 81, 98, 100, 116
Guyaquil Interagua 131, 132
Haraway, Donna 7
Harvey, David 7, 9, 21, 32
Harvey, William 31, 32
historical materialism 15, 17, 19, 20
Honduras 60, 139
Huasipungo 83, 87
see also peasantry
hybridity 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 20, 21, 22, 24,
256, 28, 37, 184
hydrological cycle 9, 28, 37, 42
see also physical processes
hydrosocial cycle 2, 27, 38, 42, 45, 47, 50,
150, 175
ideology of water 32, 47, 1059, 133
IMF (International Monetary Fund) 40, 44,
60, 114
immigration 95, 98
institutionalization 45
institutional embedding of water services
126, 128, 156
International Development Bank 124
International Drinking Water Supply And
Sanitation Decade 122
international nance 94, 124, 183
international loans 104, 124
see also aid; loans
International Water (IWL) 116, 130
invasion settlements 2, 59, 69, 72, 98, 105,
107, 110, 111, 113, 136, 140, 151, 154,
159, 160, 161
see also Invasiones
Invasiones, the 23
investment in water 36, 3940, 413, 479,
58, 61, 72, 91, 114, 116, 11718, 1223,
124, 125, 12732, 1478, 149, 159, 178,
see also capital
Isla Trinitaria 70, 71, 74, 136, 141, 142, 169
Jakarta 8, 12, 41
Jessop, Bob 445
Junta Cantonal de Agua Potable de
Guayaquil 107, 108
Junta de Canalizacin De Guayaguil 82, 90
Junta de Canalizacin y Proveedora de Agua
Junta Especial De Saniamiento 92, 97
Keynesianism 39, 103
La Atarjea system 62
labour power 16, 104
labour relations 16, 85, 88, 159
La Cmera de Comercio 86
La Junta De Beneciencia 86
La Lolita 67, 99, 100, 111, 135
Lake Galilee 46
land rent 18, 70, 72, 85, 100, 105, 121
206 Index
landscape, transformation of 3, 29
landscaped gardens 11
Latin America 512, 53, 57, 58, 59, 60, 73,
92, 114, 117, 119, 122, 127, 128, 132
Latour, Bruno 7, 13, 14, 21
Lefebvre, Henri 1, 7, 17, 201
leisure lakes 62
Lima 52, 56, 62, 73, 120, 139, 153
loans 148
bilateral/multilateral 39, 124, 160
foreign 86, 91, 92, 104, 108, 110, 111, 113,
119, 122, 123, 124, 128, 12930, 132,
1478, 183
London 30, 46, 48, 88
Los Angeles 2, 245
Lyonnaise des Eaux 12
Magdalena, river 51
Malcon 90
marches 154, 1556, 167, 168, 178
La Marcha del Balde sin Agua 155
Marcha Contro El Tanquero Ladrn 156
see also protest; social movements
Marx, Karl 1517
Marxism 16, 17
megacity 8, 28
see also city, the
megadams 8
metabolic transformations 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 10,
12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 27,
289, 301, 49, 72, 91, 103, 115, 133,
175, 177, 178, 184
Mexico 54, 56, 139, 156
Mexico City 8, 51, 52, 55, 56, 59, 60, 131, 139
middle class 72, 81, 147
see also bourgeoisie
migration 85, 103
ruralurban 63
military 96, 1067, 110, 155
mineral water industry 28
see also bottled water companies
mode of production 7
modernity 14, 17, 24
pre-modernity 7
monopoly rent 54, 91, 125, 126, 143, 161
of nature 138
of water 1, 43, 65, 70, 1089, 115, 117,
121, 125, 138, 142, 148, 149, 153, 155,
161, 163, 167, 169, 171, 177
Munford, Lewis 32
narratives 20, 29, 47
engineering 25, 37, 48
National Rivers Authority 44
nationalized water supply 39
see also privatization of water
nature/culture dichotomy 12
nature/environmentsociety relationship 3,
10, 13, 15, 16, 23, 175, 183
neo-liberal monetarism 182
neo-liberal world economic order 38, 160
networks 7, 9, 10, 14, 21, 24, 26, 289, 32, 36,
104, 114
clientelist 151, 159, 160
distribution 28, 148, 159, 169
engineered/urban/water 3, 30, 32, 39,
423, 49, 55, 56, 57, 60, 61, 62, 64, 67,
689, 72, 82, 90, 1001, 112, 113, 116,
119, 1423, 161, 169, 178
Latour and 7, 21, 28
of power 107
supply 42, 57, 69, 72, 105, 118
New York 25, 93, 94
Nicaragua 54, 60
non-government organizations (NGOs) 79,
152, 153
OFWAT (Ofce Of the Water Regulator) 43,
oil 9, 80, 102, 10911, 112, 114, 183
Oncomouse 13, 17
Ordenanza Sobre Agua Potable (1933)
organized labour 95, 159
see also labour power
Orinoco, river 51
Panama 54, 60, 102
Panama City 58
Paris 12, 30, 32, 35, 88, 89
participation 3, 4, 28, 58, 104, 134, 177, 179
peasantry 34, 35, 70, 834, 85, 989
people power 4
see also labour power; resistance; social
personal hygiene 34, 35, 53, 56, 83
see also public health
petroleum 59, 109
see also oil
Peru 54, 56, 60, 73, 110, 139
phlogiston theory 31
physical processes 2, 3, 13, 15, 1718, 21, 22
see also biochemical processes
political ecology 2, 3, 8, 1112, 17, 20, 214,
25, 28, 29, 36, 37, 50, 62, 63, 75, 79, 88,
99, 101, 103, 110, 115, 133, 171, 175,
178, 181, 182, 184
of urbanization 1, 29, 133
of water 62, 101, 133
Index 207
political economy 4, 16, 36, 38, 70, 83, 103,
117, 119, 122, 133, 135, 150, 151, 171,
177, 178, 181
of power 2, 75
of water 38, 74, 104, 132
political parties 54, 102, 156
see also Costa; Sierra
pollution 9, 25, 73, 100
see also contaminated water
post-colonialism 30, 83
post-Fordism 39
see also exible accumulation
post-industrialism 25
post-marxism 19
post-modernism 14, 19
ows 3, 4
material 2, 3, 23
metaphorical 2, 32
social 22, 23, 24, 35, 37, 41, 434, 50, 114,
115, 133, 167, 175, 177
symbolic 1, 3, 28, 29
privatization of water 78, 28, 38, 40, 41, 46,
60, 108, 148, 181
economic 2, 36, 42, 43, 151
political-ecological 23, 29, 36, 37, 62, 75,
social 2, 9, 184
social-ecological 2, 10, 12, 16, 28, 36, 94
urban 10, 80, 180
productionist logic 1701
protest 118, 132, 150, 1537, 1678
see also activism
public health 53
public institutions 43, 60, 90
public-private companies 36, 41, 44
public-private dichotomy 3940, 145
public-private partnerships 38
Quangos 152
quasi-object 13, 14, 17, 21, 22
Quito 51, 52, 62, 63, 64, 80, 86, 87, 89, 96,
109, 110, 139, 152, 155
reality 19, 30
cultural 20
discursive 19
linguistic 20
truth 16, 19, 20
regulation 18, 39, 40, 43, 44, 151, 167, 178,
179, 181
representation 14, 18, 20, 21, 31, 32, 47
see also being; discourse; reality
reregulation 43
reservoirs 28, 29, 35, 46, 55, 57, 59, 67, 82,
100, 105, 108, 111, 113, 155, 169, 183
see also water infrastructure
resistance 11, 26, 150, 151, 1545, 158, 171,
distribution of 132, 133
natural 7, 23, 45, 57, 109, 127, 181, 182
water resources 4, 36, 47, 60, 79, 127, 151,
revolucin liberal 87, 88, 90
Rio de la Plata, river 61
risk 9, 14, 17, 25, 47, 49, 57, 132
social risk 89
rituals 3, 13, 32, 101, 150, 151, 159, 163, 180
Rockefeller Foundation 79, 93
Rousseau, Jean Jacques 31
RWE 41, 46, 48
San Francisco, river 51
Santiago 56
Santiago de Chile 55
So Paulo 51, 52, 57
scale 12, 26, 29, 36, 445, 48, 114, 177, 1813
politics of 1812
scarcity 25, 47, 51, 55, 59, 69, 141, 156, 161
production of 47, 60, 678, 69, 108, 114,
125, 134, 145, 160, 161, 176
of water 8, 25, 36, 47, 68, 102, 105, 106,
1078, 153, 155, 160, 161, 163, 167, 179
science 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 31
self-construction 152
self-nancing 60, 149, 152
Serrano 86, 87
sewage 12, 25, 32, 33, 49, 53, 111, 116, 133
disposal 39, 72, 73
sewerage systems 301, 34, 53, 54, 56, 61, 64,
72, 73, 81, 8990, 92, 97, 98, 117, 125,
126, 127, 12830, 133, 140, 147, 181
shanty settlements 59
Sierra 80, 86, 87, 93, 95, 96
Sierra hacienderos 83
see also middle class
signied 14, 20
Sixto, President 153, 160, 167
Smith, Adam 31, 32
Smith, Neil 17
social cohesion 8
social justice 175, 183
social movements 9
Cisternas Comunitarias 152, 155, 179
Comit Pro Agua Potable 152, 155
Frente De Usuarios, Partido Socialista
Ecuatorino (PSE) 144, 156, 167
Movimiento Popular Deocratico 156
208 Index
social relations 10, 15, 1617, 21, 22, 24, 30,
36, 878, 100, 183
capitalist 16, 17
socio-nature 15, 16, 17, 1819, 204, 25, 29,
space 20, 24, 29, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 104
of exclusion 11, 28
of resistance 26
stakeholder participation 45
Stoffwechsel 16
structural adjustment funds 60
policy 122, 1601, 167, 181
subordination 2, 4, 10, 96
suburbanization 70
sustainability 23, 24, 45, 180, 183, 184
economic 42
urban 1, 4, 8, 27, 28, 378, 48, 101, 110,
115, 175, 180, 182
sustainable/unsustainable cities 10, 11, 38
sustainable management of resources 127
sustainable urban development 133, 178
tanqueros, tanker lorries 4, 56, 67, 109, 114,
119, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141,
1425, 148, 152, 153, 155, 156, 161, 163,
1667, 168, 180
technocentrism 159
technological x 478
technological networks 39
Tel Aviv 46
terratenientes 989
Thames Water 48, 130
Third World cities 35, 48
Third World Megalopolis 25
Tiber, river 30
toilette, the 334, 35
see also personal hygiene
trialectics 42
tugurizacin 70, 72, 95, 99100, 110
Turkey 46
underclass, the 98, 107, 178
underdevelopment 72, 149, 180, 183
uneven development 29, 17, 48
see also Smith, Neil
urban bourgeoisie 34, 95, 88, 118
see also bourgeoisie
urban segregation 70
urban social struggle 149, 1501, 153
urban sustainability 4, 8, 27, 48, 182
urban water circulation 4, 37, 133
urban water projects 82, 90, 132
urbanization 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 23, 245,
29, 30, 31, 32, 35, 367, 50, 67, 72, 75,
79, 80, 86, 889, 90, 103, 104, 109, 110,
112, 115, 11718, 121, 135, 150, 175,
180, 181, 182
of nature 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 35, 150, 156, 170,
of water 20, 2930, 326, 37, 50, 62, 75,
77, 80, 83, 912, 93, 94, 97, 98, 101, 104,
11415, 117, 126, 1456, 148, 150, 156,
175, 176, 181
Uruguay, river 51
Usumacinta, river 51
Velasco Ibarra 104
Velasquez Ibarra 98
Venezuela 54, 60, 139
Via a la costa lling station 141, 154
Vivendi 41
von Haussman, Baron 32
von Liebig, Justus 16
Walloon/Flemish dispute 8
waste see sewage 11, 32, 49, 64, 73, 74, 82,
125, 130, 151
hazardous 49
industrial 12
management 72
and activism 150
availability 100, 151, 182
and capital 48
in the city, history of 3, 25, 29, 31, 33, 37,
75, 90
and class 2, 29, 345, 37, 49, 50, 75, 81, 83,
89, 97, 101, 107, 114, 117, 120, 125, 147,
156, 158, 15960, 170, 183
companies 12, 37, 423, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49,
60, 61, 67, 108, 114, 116, 117, 119, 121,
124, 126, 128, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156,
158, 179, 180, 182; see also Lyonnaise
des Eaux
conduction 4, 356, 91, 92, 99, 108, 111,
113, 117, 125, 133, 152, 177
consumption 40, 46, 47, 52, 81, 90, 923,
control over 70, 153, 155, 156, 158, 163,
170, 180, 182
and cultural capital 33, 35, 82
distribution 4, 38, 556, 61, 69, 70, 72,
100, 116, 123, 125, 126, 134, 135, 147,
153, 155, 158, 159, 161, 163, 166, 167,
169, 171, 177, 178, 179, 180
economics 9
and ethnicity 2, 29, 75, 81
exclusion 51, 62, 65, 67, 183
ows 1, 2, 4, 256, 29, 30, 32, 34, 64, 67, 80,
92, 99, 100, 104, 105, 114, 116, 150, 159
Index 209
and gender 2, 29, 35, 37, 4950, 745, 156
infrastructure 39, 40, 42, 48, 901, 116,
122, 148; see also canalization;
circulation of water; dams; megadams;
sewerage systems; technological
management 7, 8, 9, 36, 38, 44, 45, 60, 61,
69, 133, 176
mandarins 116
politics 8, 9, 80, 101, 112, 133, 134, 158,
15960, 171, 175, 176, 177
price of 42, 47, 61, 80, 101, 119, 138, 139,
140, 141, 142, 155, 161, 163, 167, 168,
169, 179
production 36, 412, 45, 50, 55, 73, 8990,
91, 101, 107, 117, 118, 126, 133, 146,
158, 159, 170, 177, 183, 184
provision 38, 39, 56, 58, 60, 64, 92, 103,
118, 127, 133, 182; urban 64, 70, 75,
116, 117, 118, 122, 133, 135
sabotage 162, 169
shortage 2, 28, 58, 62, 73, 105, 116, 151,
154, 161, 162, 168
and social power 35, 37, 41, 434, 50, 77,
114, 133, 145, 167, 175, 177
speculators 55, 65, 101, 116, 19920, 125,
126, 145, 161, 163, 169, 178
strikes 163, 166
symbolism 1, 3, 25, 28, 2930, 34, 49,
terrorism 111, 161
theft 120, 121, 125
violence 152
waterscape 3, 22, 29
Western cities 34, 39
Williams, Raymond 10
women 578, 74, 156, 177
see also feminism; gender
womens organizations 24, 178
World Bank 40, 44, 60, 111, 113, 114, 119,
123, 124, 128, 132, 147, 160

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